Thursday, January 28, 2010

Swine Flu - Learnings From the Non Event of 2009 Swine Flu

There is an old adage that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. Whilst H1N1, also known as swine flu, is so 2009, there are lessons to be learned from it.

How did the story unfold? A “new” strain of flu emerged in late April. Other than that it came from Mexico (originally) and was associated with pig flu, there is nothing notable about another strain of what is a very common virus. Yet the “authorities” went into hyper drive. Predictions of thousands of death and millions of people being infected were made.

The chief Medical Officer in the UK suggested that there could be 65 000 deaths. Comparisons were made with the “pandemic” of 1918. Similar dire warnings were made in other countries. In Australia children with a runny nose were placed in quarantine and whole schools closed.

The WHO got into the act with its own dire predictions. Pandemic 6 was quickly reached. This sounds scary but means only that the virus has infected people in two WHO regions. All that takes is for a person with the virus in the USA to go to Europe and someone get it there –seriously scary. To combat this dire threat, governments around the world ordered mass doses of vaccine.

As the months went by the reality diverged further and further from the fear campaign. Deaths were not only way lower than predicted but lower than occurs with seasonal flu. The virus was milder than many other flu strains. There were no mass graves. Economic activity continued as normal.

Despite overwhelming evidence that they got it wrong (same as they did with SARS, Avian Flu, Mad Cow Disease and many others) the authorities have clung to their story.

In December we had USA officials urging everyone to get a vaccine in case of a second wave. It is hard to have a second wave when there was not a first one.
In Australia a similar line has been run although advertisements (paid for by the government) urging everyone to have a vaccine have disappeared.
Australia ordered 20 million vaccines. At least 75% of these will never be used. Many governments have now (quietly) slashed their orders. Glaxo (a vaccine maker) reported sales to governments of $US 1.36 billion in the December quarter. Meanwhile most countries claim their “health “budgets are struggling.

On the positive side, The Council Of Europe is investigating what Wolfgang Wodarg (head of health at the council” called “one of the greatest medical scandals of the century”. In the USA a report has shown that 64% of advisers to the CDC on vaccines had potential conflicts of interest (ties to vaccine makers).

Through all this, not once has there been any “official” advice to the public about things that you can do for your immune system. Simple things like drinking adequate water, doing regular exercise, getting enough sleep, having adequate levels of zinc vitamin and antioxidants (to name a few), eating fruits and vegetables and managing stress.

Of course not, that would be too simple and mean that you have looked after your own health rather than rely on government to “save” you from the latest crisis they have conjured up.

I do not expect the authorities to learn their lesson. They have a vested interest, either financial or perceived importance, in dreaming up health scares.
For those of you who are into do it yourself health there are simple lessons

1 Look after your immune system (see key points above)
2 Do not buy into hysteria and outlandish claims regardless of who makes them
3 Do not be “sold” a solution when there is a free one available
4 Be questioning of information from health authorities.
5 The best way not to be sick (from any cause) is to be healthy
6 Be responsible for your health and have your own DIY Health Plan

Watch out for the next health scare. It will emerge and will follow the same pattern as all the previous ones. Next time step back, do not get caught up and have a quiet chuckle.

Relaunch - Commentary on Health Issues

With the advent of a new year and the blog coming up for its first birthday in February, it is time to relaunch the blog page. When I started this last year there was no website so this was the vehicle for all articles. With the launch of the website at last September there has been duplication between postings in the site and on this blog.

Starting this week, the blog will be where I comment on health topics and give my opinions on matters to do with health and other issues that affect our lives. The website will be home to health information and tips on how to be DIY Healthy. Given the nature of health topics,at times there will still be some overlap.

This will make the blog more of a true blog in some respects. I would like to thank all of my readers and hope that you will contribute comments and ideas on postings here.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Australia Day

Today is Australia Day. January 26 1788 is when the first fleet arrived in Sydney Cove to establish a British colony in Australia. For the first century and a bit Australia was a collection of separate colonies and in 1901 the colonies came together to form a federation.

Like many countries some of the behavior of early settlers was with hindsight not all that it could have been. Equally it is easy to be judgmental with the benefit of modern life and the knowledge we have today that was not available to our ancestors of over two centuries ago.

It is interesting that during the last 25 years Australia Day is being recognized and celebrated more. It is now celebrated on January 26 rather than on the nearest Monday. The flag is much more visible and ,dare I say, respected than in years gone by.

Australia today has become very diverse and cosmopolitan. Migrants have come to Australia from right around the world seeking a new life in “the lucky country”. With the exception of the actions of a few individuals, Australia remains a tolerant place where diversity is respected and people from any background are welcomed.

Australia Day then is less about remembering the landing of a boat 222 years ago but more about celebrating a country which today enjoys a high standard of living, where opportunities exist for all who want to succeed, where the climate is pretty good all year round, where people do not take themselves too seriously and where a people live in peace and by any global scale, prosperity.

Equally,remembering and learning from history is important as is recognizing the efforts,struggles and sacrifices of those who came before.

I am certainly proud to be Australian. Happy Australia Day to all.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Depression-Alternatives to Antidepressants in Managing and Avoiding Depression

Once again a large question mark has been thrown over antidepressants. A major analysis of previous studies shows that the effect of Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) is no more than placebo (a non active sugar tablet) in mid and moderate depression. It is only in severe depression where the drugs do more than placebo.

This backs up a previous large analysis in 2008, which showed the same result. These analyses have looked at both published studies and also unpublished data submitted to the FDA. Their have also at times been allegations that studies, which showed little benefit from the medications, were at best not published and at worst suppressed.

What is interesting is that, of course most people who take antidepressants feel better, but in mild and moderate depression, it is the taking of the tablet rather than the tablet itself, which has the effect.

The rates of diagnosis of depression have increased considerably over the last two decades. Between 1995 and 2005 the number of Americans prescribed an antidepressant doubled and those being treated took more tablets. Some say this comes from better recognition of the problem. Others feel that it reflects a medicalizing of normal human emotion. However there is no data at all to show that the population is better off for taking all these pills. Around US$1billion is spent on promoting SSRI”s each year with the proportion devoted to direct consumer advertising quadrupling between 1999 and 2005.

The de-stigmatizing of mental health has been a good thing. Mental health issues are no less real than any other. However, it has also led people to feel that having a bad hair day is somehow the same as having depression. I am staggered by the number of people who feel that because they are facing challenges in their life, they feel like they have got “a bit of depression”.

So what are some simple things that can we do to reduce the likelihood of feeling depressed and improve our mood if we are low?

1 Exercise. Regular exercise can reduce depression by around one third. Even regular housework (20 minutes per week) has reduced depression by 20%.

2 Eat real food. Higher rates of depression are found in people who eat lots of processed food whereas those who eat “whole” foods (fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts etc) had lower rates.

3 Get enough Vitamin D. This can be from a bit of sunshine eating oily fish (e.g. salmon or tuna) or supplements.

4 Drink Green tea.

5 Manage your stress. For example take a walk in the park or listen to music. Meditation or yoga is also good.

For those seeking a natural option instead of tablets, the herb St Johns Wort has been consistently shown to be as effective as drugs and has minimal if any side effects.

When “bad” things happen it is as normal to feel down, as it is to feel happy when “good” things happen. To feel down after a relationship breakdown or job loss is no more abnormal than to feel happy after winning a lottery. There is a range of human emotion and feeling-all of which are valid.

Life has its ups and downs. Often when you are feeling down there is some lesson in life to learn. It is from the hardest times that comes the greatest growth. Some people may need an antidepressant for severe depression. For most of the rest the answer will lie in resolving the issue(s) that trouble you rather than in a pill.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Benefits to You of Regular Exercise

One of the simplest ways to stay healthier for longer is to be regularly active. In some respects it is amazing that we need to be reminded of this. Up until fairly recent times being active was not optional-it was necessary for survival.

Our ancestors would only be able to eat if they caught or gathered food, both of which require exertion. Even after the advent of commercial agriculture most forms of work were physical. On top of that to get from A to B required physical effort.

If we examine our daily routine, it is remarkable how much the requirement for physical activity has been removed. Simple domestic tasks like washing the clothes the dishes have been automated. Even one generation ago you needed to get up out of the chair to change TV channels and get out of your car to open the garage door. You can even get pre chopped up vegetables!

It has been estimated that the amount of calories “not used” up in a year due to labor saving devices could be as much as 2kg of weight. By the end of 10 years that’s 20kg by eating exactly the same as you might have done 30 years ago!

Two common questions about exercise are, is it too late to start and when will I find the time. Great news then on both these fronts. A recent Israeli study showed that life expectancy in 85 year olds increased when they were active for 4 hours per week. There was a benefit even if they had not been active before this. In addition they reported feeling less down and had greater confidence in tackling everyday tasks.

At the other end of the spectrum a Norwegian study showed that women who exercised regularly in pregnancy avoided having babies with excessive birth weight, which is a plus for mother and baby. Not surprisingly there are plenty of studies around showing benefit to people at all ages.

So you are never too old or too young to start.

Lack of time is the number one excuse given for not exercising. A recent survey across many countries showed that the average time spent each day watching TV was at least 3 hours. That is 21 hours per week or nearly one whole day out of every week!!

For a reasonable exercise program you need 30 minutes 4 times a week or a minimum of 2 hours. A bit more is better but 2 hours per week is a start. This is 10% of average TV time. Put simply there is time there if you choose to look for it.

And herein lies the key. Exercise will happen and you will get the benefits when you choose to do it. This is really simple. There is no need for government programs, no need to wait till tomorrow and no need to spend a single cent. You can start walking today. If you haven’t done much for a while start at a low level. Just go around the block. After a week or two go around a bigger block. Gradually expand the distance. Increase your pace if you want to.

If you don’t like walking you can swim or bike ride, if you want to invest some money join a gym or get a personal trainer.Get involved in The Weekly Fitness Challenge. There are many choices. Please add your ideas below.

The single most important choice is choosing to be active regularly.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Be a better you in 2010

Can you believe its already 2010. “Happy New Year to you”. One of the customs of the New Year is to do new years resolutions. Many people will have resolutions to do with their health. Unfortunately some of these will be the same as last years and maybe some years before that too. The problem being that by middle to late January great intentions fade and we revert to usual patterns.

The two commonest new years resolutions we make are to lose a few pounds (or kilos) and to get fitter. The problems arise in two ways. Firstly, our beliefs. What we believe is a function of our collective past experiences. This includes both the results of our previous actions but also our observations of what other people have done. If we have tried to get fit in the past and haven’t then our belief system will tell us it can’t be done. The same applies to changing eating patterns.

So lets say we start out with some ideas about exercise and healthy eating. If we believe that our ideas can be brought to reality, we will set about doing them. If we believe they are not possible, then it is likely that the idea will go no further. There is a third option which sometimes is the default one where people set out to do something but deep down don’t really believe they will succeed.

Many people fall into the third category as described above where they set out on an exercise program or to improve their diet, and despite good intentions deep down, they don’t actually believe that they will succeed. This is usually based on past experiences.

Yet if you look around, people have done it and there are countless stories of success. This means it can be done. In turn this means that for you to succeed the first step will be a change in your beliefs and mindset. As Henry Ford said, “whether we believe we can or we can’t, we are likely to be right”. This is therefore a choice you make as to what you choose to believe.

Secondly there is a lack of a plan. The resolution to “get fit” or “eat better” is noble but vague. A plan to work out for 30 minutes, 4 times a week with the time and place written in your diary is specific, measurable and much more likely to be acted on. Likewise a plan which says I will eat two extra serves of fruit and vegetables and stop eating potato chips is specific and measurable. So is I will drink water instead of soda.

The twin problems of beliefs and lack of a plan can be overcome. You may need to work at them, as it may be a new experience. That’s fine. Nothing that is worthwhile comes without effort. Equally it is effort (note not struggle!) that brings rewards.

The third component is knowledge. There is no shortage of how to books out there yet as has been said if all we needed was how to books everyone would be rich and of ideal weight. What you need is a guide to better health complete with tips, simple ideas and knowledge that is easy to understand and easy to apply.

Believe that you can, have a DIY Health action plan that you follow and start 2010 with a gift to your self of the best guide to health- Dr Joes DIY Health. ( available at )

Please add your comments and thoughts below.

Changing your mindset is the first step to being a better you.