Health Notes

How to Win the ‘Bug Wars’ and Transform Your Health

Avocados

Forget your genes, which you can’t influence, says cardiologist Dr Steven Gundry, and focus instead on the trillions of bacteria in your body, which you can recruit as your best health buddies from today on.

Some two decades back, eminent cardiologist and heart surgeon Dr Steven Gundry was obese. He suffered with daily migraines and, although only in his forties, he had such bad arthritis he wore braces on his knees to run. Despite the pain, he ran 30 miles a week, did a daily stint in the gym and ate what he‘d been taught was a healthy diet. Read More…

Supplements for Veganuary

Selection of veg in dirt on grey background

I’m 100 per cent in favour of plant-based diets but it’s indisputable that vegan diets – and some vegetarian ones – can lack essential nutrients including vitamin B12, omega-3 essential fatty acids, iodine, selenium, iron and also vitamin D (although most people, vegan or not, have sub-optimal levels during the winter).

The Vegan Society has a very useful ‘Nutrition Overview’ section here, with contributions from dietitians.

Cultures such as Indian Jains have consumed a completely vegetarian, non-animal diet for millennia, following their philosophy of non-violence. Jains also avoids root vegetables because of the potential for harming tiny creatures in the soil. It may seem very limited and boring but I had personal experience of this for some time with Jains’ friends and can vouch for its deliciousness and nutritional value. So it’s worth looking online for Jain blogs with recipes.

The Vegan Society offers its own VEG1 supplement. Alternatively, pharmacist Shabir Daya suggests taking BetterYou Vegan Health Daily Oral Spray, which has been formulated to deliver four essential nutrients (B12, D3, iodine and iron) straight into the blood stream, bypassing the gut where they might get lost. £14.95 for 25ml, dose four sprays daily.

Shabir also recommends taking an omega-3 supplement, but beware here as few plant sources provide an efficient means of converting their fatty acids into EPA and DHA, the key omega-3s. However echium seed oil gives vegans a source of Omega-3 that’s as efficient as fish oil. The product is called Echiomega by Igennus, £13.99 for 60 capsules, dose for adults and children over ten is 2-4 capsules daily.

Finally, a note for those who want to follow a gluten-free vegan diet. Many years ago, before I discovered I was sensitive to gluten, I became pretty ill following a vegan diet. Now there is much more knowledge about this problem and many more options, including recipes on BBC Good Food. We still eat a lot of veggie food so I’m off to try the lentil ragu with courgetti.

And the wonderful Jasmine Hemsley (jasminehemsley.com) has a whole section on Diving into Veganuary from last year. Winter Sunset Soup with ginger, cumin and rosemary, anyone?

Lets Feast On Cheese, Choccy and Eggs!

Dark chocolate on pink background

One of the joys of lockdown in our remote Dorset village is the cheese delivery from Neals Yard Dairy – a cornucopia of the most flavoursome British and Irish farmhouse cheeses. Guilty treat? After all, doesn’t the abundance of saturated fat in cheese increase so-called ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, clogging your arteries and raising your risk of heart disease? In a word, no.

A ‘State-of-the-Art Review’ of all the evidence, published this summer in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC), concludes that ‘Whole-fat dairy, unprocessed [red] meat, eggs and dark chocolate are…. not associated with increased risk of CVD (cardiovascular disease)’. (It’s worth noting here, that the authors advise only ‘modest amounts’ of red meat.)

Although saturated fatty acids (SFAs) increase LDL cholesterol in most individuals, the Review adds, they don’t raise the levels of the dangerous, small, dense LDL particles but ‘larger LDL [particles] which are much less strongly related to CVD risk’. What’s more, these foods contain lots of other valuable nutrients that we shouldn’t miss out on.

Saturated fat – as opposed to mono- and poly-unsaturated fats – has been demonised since the mid 1950s when it became the alleged cause of President Dwight D Eisenhower’s fatal heart attack. Latterly, it’s said that allegation was down to the economic and political undesirability of blaming his consumption of sugar and tobacco, both key domestic crops, rather than any evidence. As a result, for over 40 years the dietary advice in the US and this country has dictated that we reduce our risk of cholesterol-raising foods to avoid heart disease. So health-conscious mortals opted for margarine, low or no fat yogurt, egg white omelettes, fish or poultry and perish the thought of finishing a meal with a tantalising cheese board and a few squares of chocolate made with 70% cocoa.

The State-of-the-Art Review reflects a recent revolution in dietary thinking. Since the beginning of this century, ‘a number of trials comparing high and low-fat diets have shown that high fat is better for health’, according to science journalist and nutrition campaigner Nina Teicholz. Not only does a high fat diet appear to have a positive effect in and of itself (more about this further down) but eating a low fat diet is very likely to increase our consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates. ‘I think [those] have more of an impact on CVD, type 2 diabetes, cancer and obesity than saturated fat,’ says nutritionist and author Dr Marilyn Glenville.

However, this is a battlefield with wars being waged over several issues. Although the authors of the JACC Review hoped their work would inform the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the five-person Subcommittee responsible for the latest edict was unmoved. The evidence linking saturated fats to heart disease was judged to be “strong”, both for adults and children, they said.

Opposition forces say that only looking at levels of LDL cholesterol is unreliable. You need to examine ‘hard’ outcome data like heart attacks and death. The JACC Review looked at a wide range of randomised controlled clinical trials on over 50,000 people where saturated fats were replaced by unsaturated fats; the studies concluded that saturated fats have no effect on death from heart disease and all other causes. (This is not to say that unsaturated fats are undesirable; the evidence for the benefits of a Mediterranean diet is high, says Dr Glenville.)

Despite widespread medical opinion, having a high level of LDL cholesterol may not be related to death from heart disease. The evidence for a link is weak and one big study showed that, in fact, the higher people’s LDL, the longer their chance of survival. The large-scale US Framingham study, which monitored three generations, revealed little difference in cholesterol levels between the majority of those who did and did not develop heart disease. Further research found that of more than 130,000 patients hospitalised with a heart attack, 75% had normal total cholesterol and LDL levels.

More important may be metabolic syndrome, which is linked to high consumption of sugar and other carbs. Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when a patient has three or more of these conditions:

  • Low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), so-called ‘good’ cholesterol.
  • High triglyceride levels (the third fat measured in total cholesterol, along with HDL and LDL).
  • Type 2 diabetes or a pre-diabetic state known as impaired glucose tolerance.
  • Raised blood pressure (higher than 140/90mmHg).
  • Increased waist measurement (more than 90cm for men and 84cm for women).

Whether or not you want to eat all these SFA-rich foods – red meat is contentious for several reasons, including animal welfare and the environment as well as health – there are benefits in choosing full fat versions of, for instance, live natural yogurt, which provides beneficial gut bacteria without added sugar. Like yogurt, cheese contains a range of valuable nutrients, including probiotics, and is consistently found to be associated with lower CVD risk. Whole-fat dairy foods may also be protective against type 2-diabetes.

Eggs are nutrient powerhouses, providing all the omega-3 essential fatty acids our bodies need and can’t make themselves, as Dr Glenville points out.

Dark chocolate with more than 70% cocoa contains ingredients called flavanols, which can reduce blood pressure and other risk factors for dementia and diabetes, according to Margaret Rayman, Professor of Nutritional Medicine at the University of Surrey. The amount of sugar in 70% and 80% dark chocolate is very low but some versions have even less.

NB: There may be individuals with medical conditions that make it unwise for them to eat in this way.

Dear Readers

hn-last-one

Sadly, this is my last column in YOU after more years than I care to count. For family reasons, I am stepping down to have a break. But it’s not goodbye as I will still be contributing regularly to the magazine.

Over the years, your letters, cards, photos and emails have provided the inspiration for the huge range of topics I have delved into. You have trusted me with your concerns and, with the help of leading experts worldwide, I have aimed to respond with the advice I would want for my family and friends.

I have had the privilege of talking to health heroes, including doctors and scientists carrying out pioneering research, natural health experts exploring the potential of traditional medicine, and patients with life-limiting conditions who have found their own ways to live well. Read More…

In Case Of Emergencies

Black and white health case

With schools breaking up shortly, prep for holiday health with the St John Ambulance Universal Plus First Aid Kit – everything you need for common accidents, plus a first aid leaflet, £16.80 from stjohnsupplies.co.uk. And here are my tried and trusted products for trips near and far:

  • Derma E Hydrating Facial Wipes, £9 for 25: one-stop cleansing and softening wipes, based on plant ingredients; they’re plastic-free and 100 percent compostable with recyclable packaging. Also: Simply Gentle Organic Cotton Buds, £2.25 for 200, with biodegradable stems.
  • Compeed Blister Mix Plasters, £4.39: a must for sore heels, toes or corns. Available nationwide.
  • Sea-Band, £8.74 for a pack of two wristbands to help nausea and vomiting: position the band’s stud on an acupressure point on your inside wrist. For adults and children. Sea-Band Mama! Ginger Lozenges with Folic Acid, £4.60, may help to alleviate morning sickness.
  • Viridian Nutrition Travel Biotic, £24.95 for 30 capsules: contains a probiotic shown to prevent traveller’s diarrhoea and stomach upsets. Take one daily for five days before travelling then during your trip.
  • Dr Scurr’s Zinopin Long Haul, £24.50 for ten capsules (for each return flight): this natural supplement formulated by a consultant surgeon helps reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis and puffy ankles on flights over two hours.
  • De Mamiel Altitude Oil, £28 for 10ml: a blend of antibacterial, antiviral and antiseptic herbs to help clear your head and protect your immune system on germ-friendly planes and public transport.
  • Fire Angel Carbon Monoxide (CO) Alarm, £24.99: this portable device detects poisonous gas, which has no smell or taste. Inhaling CO can cause chronic ill health. High levels can be deadly, with deaths from faulty appliances recorded in hotels and rentals. (See nhs.uk for symptoms.)
  • Better You Magnesium Gel, £11.95: fast-acting gel for joint and muscle aches and pains or post-flight stiffness.
  • Terranova Avena Sativa & Tart Cherry, £16.80: natural remedy that may help jet lag, tension and insomnia.
  • iS Clinical Sheald Recovery Balm, £43 for 60ml: brilliant for sunburn – a father whose small son was very sunburnt was astonished at its almost instant calming and healing effect. (If you have nothing else, apply cold milk.)

Being ‘hangry’ – hungry and angry – is a real phenomenon, experts agree.
When blood sugar levels drop, you’re more likely to snap at people. Stress related hormones are released along with neuropeptide Y, a chemical that can make people more aggressive. Nutritionist Ian Marber (ianmarber.com) told me many years ago that blood sugar levels start to drop two to three hours after eating, which explained why I would feel faint, shaky and irritable if I didn’t refuel. Ever since then I always carry some nuts in my bag or – a new discovery – a Bounce Protein Energy Ball. These filling, gluten-free, vegetarian bites tide me over nicely. My favourites from the range of 12 are Cacao Mint and Almond, £2 each at Waitrose.


If footwear could win an Oscar, my colleague Rosalind and I would vote for FitFlops, the genius brand pioneered by entrepreneur Marcia Kilgore. Actress Uma Thurman loves them so much she has her own FitFlop Edit, #Forsuperwomen. Like millions of others, we are devotees of these brilliantly designed sandals, shoes and boots, which take you anywhere in style and (hallelujah!) comfort. I wore the Superchic Woven Ballerinas, £90, to a glam dinner and skipped home at the end. Rosalind’s vote goes to the ‘light and airy’ Lulu Mirror Cross Slide Sandals, £59.95. For trotting round town, we’re both wedded to our F-Sporty Uberknit Crystal Sneakers, £89.95 – lace-ups you can pull on. Your feet will thank you. fitflop.com

The Scene

blue fan on wooden desk

A crowded restaurant on a warm evening. The problem: my menopausal friends getting hot and bothered. The solution: FanU, a phone-sized, lightweight portable cool air fan, which Gill Sinclair, joint founder of Victoria Health, pulled triumphantly from her handbag. It’s a must for anyone with hot flushes, due to hormones or chemotherapy, or simply because it’s hot outside (here’s hoping). With a USB and rechargeable battery, £9.99, in white or pink. Read More…