Thursday, 20 December 2012

My Christmas survival kit

Days to go til Christmas and I have been struck down with a horrible winter cold – which has made me think about all the things we should keep in stock, especially over Christmas when we can’t nip out to the shops for fresh supplies.

. For that early tickle in the throat – suck Comvita lozenges. I like the aniseed flavoured sweet containing propolis (a substance honey bees make to sterilise the hive). I also take Echinaforce Forte – to galvanise my immune system’s white cells so they’re ready to fight the virus.
. For aches and pains and shivers, I need paracetamol.
. For a sore throat, I love Vogel’s Echinacea throat spray. If it’s really bad try Ultra Chloraseptic throat anaesthetic to numb the pain.
. For a bunged up nose, add Olbas bath to your tub for a soothing soak, and dot Olbas oil on your pillow and PJs.
. For my cough, I’m taking Potter’s Cough Remover – a herbal syrup that moves the cough virus up and away from your chest; but I also like Kaloba pelargonium – which speeds up the movement of the villi in the respiratory tract to shift the virus.

 I also swear by spicy food for a cold – to be honest I don’t feel like much else. So it’s curry for us again tonight...

Monday, 17 December 2012

‘Tis the season to be giving, tra la la la la, tra la la la...

A month on and I am still on the theme of charity. Well, it is Christmas time...
Since my last posting, I've been on a mini break to Portugal to visit my father.
While I was there he had one of those door-to-door callers asking for charity donations.  We get them all the time in London, and I'm ashamed to admit that knocking at our door isn’t always a roaring success – we're a bit picky about who we give to, although we have signed up for a number of charities to whom we now give on a monthly basis, including Shelter, St Mungo’s, Plan (through whom we sponsor a child in Burkina Faso), the Medical Foundation, and – the latest -  Battersea Dogs’ Home (we'd just visited the home, and the poor girl who knocked at our door was soaking wet and wearing ballet pumps...)
Anyway, back to Dad. Living where he does, he was quite surprised by this knock at the door, and told me afterwards how the caller had asked if he wanted to give money to help the poor children who had nothing. When Dad said, “No,” the caller asked, “So you don’t care about the poor children?”
“No,” Dad said – and sounded quite pleased with himself when he reported back to me. 
Of course Dad was imagining he’d cleverly foiled a rogue beggar with no genuine charity connections.
Later, we saw the man near the home of some of Dad’s friends.
“Did that chap call on you, too?” he asked.
“Yes,” said the wife. “I called Security!”
Later still we had dinner with another of Dad’s neighbours. Had the scrounger called on her, too?
“Yes, and I gave him 10 euros,” she said. “But he told me that last year I gave him 20... But I only had 10 on me today.”
“Didn’t you think he could be a scrounger?” Dad asked.
“Oh course he could be,” said his friend. “But he’d taken the trouble to come calling around our houses, knowing a lot of people would turn him away – whatever his motive, he must need that money. It was only 10 euros – nothing to me - and I believe in doing good deeds.”
I admired her attitude, and, when I dug a bit deeper, she told me that once, many years ago, she met a man who’d gone through a personal crisis and travelled to India to rediscover himself. There he’d been shocked by the plight of street children trying to scrape a living and often falling into the hands of men who would abuse them. He’d rescued a few of these children and given them food and shelter. But there were more children needing his help than he could provide for.
“I gave him £100,” she said. “And when I later told my husband what I’d done, he was so concerned by the story he got in touch with the man and pledged to help him all he could.”
That was the start of the Street Kids’ Community Village, which has since built at least 10 houses and gives food, shelter and education to as many children as it can.
You only need to have watched Slumdog Millionaire, or read The Blue Notebook (James A.Levine) to understand how crucial this work is.
So, this year, I will be adding them to my favourite charities list. 
And I'll be suggesting my father does too...

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Who's getting YOUR five a day?

Giving up your seat on the train, throwing a coin in a busker’s hat, picking up some shopping for a housebound neighbour – we can all think of a few good deeds we occasionally perform. But, according to one happiness expert, we should all aim to do five good deeds a day for good karma.

When I pointed this out to my daughters, they were shocked. ‘Five? That’s A LOT!’

I think they’re right. Instead of counting my blessings at the end of every day I’m going to try counting my good deeds – and I bet they’ll rarely meet the target five.

My oldest daughter pointed out that she rarely gets a train seat to give up. Yes, she has a point – we may have to hunt around for good deeds we can do, and our day may not even lend itself to doing good deeds very easily. 

Reviewing my own routine, I can only think of a few good deeds I regularly perform:
. Always buying The Big Issue from Florentina, who sits outside my local Waitrose, and now calls me “My Friend”.
. Passing on tips to editors and journalists looking for help via email alerts - because I know what it’s like to be up against a deadline and, if I needed help, I’d welcome any leads I could get.
. Digging out any helpful health advice for friends and acquaintances who need it.
. Giving away my freebie goody-bag contents to people who will benefit from them.
. Collecting my daughters from the station when I look at the weather and know how much I would want a lift home if it was me...

That’s five – but not five a day!!

And let's not forget that for a good deed to be a truly good deed it must not have obvious pay-offs for you. I like the story I heard recently about a woman who had been given an apple. Five minutes later she passed a homeless woman in the street and gave the apple to her. The next day, quite randomly, a member of staff at the hotel where she was staying offered her a new apple from a bowl he was carrying.

Giving an editor a celeb's details after they'd just told me they wanted the story - but couldn't commission it out - did give me a bit of that shiny glow of altruism, and even if it didn't get me a job what did I have to lose?

Now I know why:

. Some friends fight me to pay the coffee bill, or put a big tip on the saucer.
. My mum plays scrabble with ladies who are 20 years older than her, wraps Christmas charity parcels for children in war-torn countries, and puts notes not coins in the church collection.
. My oldest daughter always scoops up any friend in need.
. My youngest daughter lends out favourite items of clothing.
. My husband gives freebie home made chocolates to dinner party clients, or drives across London to buy truffles from Borough Market instead of persuading a client to have something else.

But, more poignantly, there must be opportunities for good deeds I miss every day. For example,
. I always put the phone down on cold callers, instead of remembering it is just their miserable job and I am not improving their day.
. I rarely pay for extra time at the gym car park, and end up rushing out after classes when staying a few extra minutes would give me time to catch up on friends' news.
. I could make a point of emptying the dishwasher instead of leaving it for my husband to do...

Verdict: Must try harder....

Saturday, 3 November 2012

The milk plot thickens...

So today, returning from the health food store, laden with Karo coconut milk, I read HealtheHelen’s blog about A2 milk – which may suit us dairy protein intolerants better than A1 after all...
Do read what she says, because she puts the argument very well. And, while I am perfectly happy and willing to try Karo in my coffee and porridge tomorrow, I must say that it would be much easier to be using a milk that the rest of the family can drink too.
The advice from York, which seems very good, is that, if you are intolerant to milk, you should go ahead and drop ALL dairy from your diet for six months, but then, when reintroducing milk, try A2 first and see if you react to it. York says that while allergic (IgE) reactions are usually directed at one protein type, intolerances are usually directed at multiple proteins, and it is unlikely (but not impossible) that you would therefore just have an A1 beta-casein milk intolerance.

All well and good, but, hey! my wallet's developing an intolerance too...
Shopping for a food intolerance can be expensive, as I discovered today. A single portion pot of yogurt substitute – the nutritionist recommended Co-Yo – cost me about £3.50. My cashew nut butter was the same price, and the Karo coconut milk £1.69. I can see myself resorting to black coffee and porridge made with water before too long as our 16 year old daughter is asking about what kind of car she can have for her next birthday. 

But, putting money worries aside for a moment, we had a fantastic brunch today – using delicious collar bacon and two types of sausage (pork with romany herbs and pork with black pudding) that we found at The Goods Shed in Canterbury on Thursday. Steve reported that no fat or water spilled out of the sausages when he cooked them, and we all agreed they were the best we’d tasted in a long time – and, completely free of dairy and yeast. 

Friday, 2 November 2012

No more pain, vin, or Boursin pour moi!

It’s now about a week since the results of my York Test revealed my intolerance to yeast and dairy foods, and the chat with York’s nutritionist, yesterday, revealed some good and bad news.
The good news is that I don’t have to avoid fruit and raw vegetables after all...  
Having suffered a very devastating yeast intolerance herself (this lady had ME), and having cured herself through diet, she found these things were fine to eat.
I may even be able to drink a bit of wine - although maybe she shouldn't have told me this - as apparently Jacob’s Creek say their wines are yeast free, having been double filtered. Whoopee!
The bad news is that peanuts, pistachios and dried fruit are all secretly yeasty – and I should also avoid MSG in Chinese food, Pringles, stock cubes and, who knew, fish and chip shop batter.
Not realising that my peanut butter was such a little demon, I thought I’d been doing quite well loading it onto my yeast free bread substitutes: rice cakes, Ryvitas, and Matzos. It will be almond or cashew butter from now on.
Avoiding dairy hasn’t been too much of a problem, although it takes some creative thinking when I am heading for the fridge hell-bent on devouring a chunk of cheese. 
Porridge made with oat drink is delicious, though I now realise I shouldn’t be sprinkling it with yeasty prunes, and, so far, I am not missing my daily yogurt (although the nice lady from York has suggested a coconut milk alternative, which I will try).
My new A2 milk – from cows that only carry the A2 protein and not the A1 protein with which people tend to have a problem – would be great in my coffee, except that, according to York, it is unlikely to be any better for me than the normal milk I have been eschewing. The nutritionist recommends a coconut drink (coconut seems to be a better alternative than the sugary nut drinks on offer), which apparently tastes fine in coffee, and which I will buy on my next visit to the health food shop. 
It's all fine when I'm at home, and get to my pasta before Steve and the parmesan do. The biggest problem, of course, is trying to fit a new regime in with my social life.
Last Saturday at lunch at a friend’s house, there was smoked mackerel pâté made with fromage frais, and toast to put it on. 
And on Wednesday, out for lunch with friends at Le Gavroche, the day would have been spoiled if I didn’t have any wine – and who could resist the bread basket and choice of salted or unsalted butters? Though I did say no to the cheeseboard.
My plan is to avoid the culprit foods as far as possible – but not become obsessed about them. If I had a serious illness and thought that changing my diet would help, then I would probably me more motivated. But, for now, I think it’s good to be aware of the problem, make sure I don’t over indulge in anything I shouldn’t, and just see how I get on...
. Some sites worth looking at if you're struggling to think of ways to cope with a food intolerance:

Friday, 26 October 2012

Uh-oh! It’s the curse of the YorkTest!

I’ve known about, and have written about, the YorkTest for many years. But I’ve never been brave enough to do the test myself – I just couldn’t bring myself to prick my finger and squeeze the blood out.
I was happy to do this for a friend, some time back, though, and the process was gruelling. Her blood was thick and jammy and it took - I'm not joking - about 20 minutes and a lot of finger massaging to get it out. Sorry if you’ve now fainted.
I don’t know why, but even this protracted squeezing of her blood didn’t make me feel at all squeamish. But the thought of doing the same to myself still brought me out in hives.
Then came another YorkTest invitation – last week – to have tea at the Lanesborough Hotel and hear about York’s new research revealing the link between food intolerance and depression (very high, it turns out... Who knew you could be on antidepressants, when all you needed was to drop a food or two from your diet!).
The other journalists were talking about their food intolerance test results – and I realised that, still squeamish, I had mentally blocked my invitation to do this.
But, determined to find out what it was all about, I asked the lovely PR Julia to do the test for me as I averted my eyes and hoped my blood wouldn’t get too close to the jam for our scones.
It took Julia seconds to get the blood she needed, and, this week, I learned the results: I have intolerances to cow’s milk, yeast, egg white, beetroot, and a few wine grape varieties.
This was fascinating news. I already loathe egg white and beetroot, and always have done. I also hate milk – on its own.
But, while dropping beetroot and egg white from my diet poses no problem for me, milk is another matter. I am a cheese-aholic, and also love to start the day with a bowl of natural yogurt and fruit, and, later, a 50:50 milky coffee.
Yeast could be even more of a problem – it means no bread, no wine (although I happily note that champagne is a minimally yeasty wine!), and, according to a kinesiologist who also told me I was yeast intolerant about 12 years ago (and whose advice I ignored, because frankly it was too tiresome), nothing that is fermentable – including fresh fruit and raw vegetables. Mushrooms, being fungii, are naturally yeasty, and, of course, Marmite is out of the question now.
I had just bought a nice lot of Greek yogurt when I received the results, and there was a lovely olive baguette waiting to be eaten too – so I decided to delay my new regime. After all, I don’t have any symptoms that I know of – though I do want to see if anything changes when I stop eating these things.
According to Dr John Mansfield, author of The Six Secrets of Successful Weight Loss, food intolerances lie behind seven out of 10 weight problems. And York’s medical director says I may suddenly feel more energetic and have (sorry!) happier bowels when I avoid my culprit foods.
So today I went off shopping for dairy and yeast free breakfasts to replace my lovely yogurt.
It’s not that easy!
What will I put in my coffee?
I hate soya milk, and other options such as almond milk tend to contain additives and sugar (and sugar is another food we avoid when we can’t eat yeast).
And, if I go for black coffee, I will find it too bitter unless I sweeten it...
I have plumped for a new cow’s milk that doesn’t contain the milk protein – hopefully the York nutritionist will say that’s OK. My plan B is something called oat drink (I’ll let you know what it’s like).
I can put this in my coffee and use it to make porridge instead of eating yogurt (though I do recall oats making me bloated in the past...). If I get clever I may even make some yogurt with it (once I’ve found out how to get the start up culture without resorting to normal yogurt). And I will sweeten my porridge or home made yogurt with pure granulated Xylitol.
Instead of toast, I will try Matzos or rice cakes – with peanut butter, instead of dairy, and banana (if the nutritionist says it’s not too sugary and fermentable).
Steve is already muttering that he doesn’t like the idea of me becoming an even fussier eater (he can’t understand the no beetroot or egg white thing!). But I reckon most of our evening meals will be OK – as long as he uses my milk for any Bechamel, and doesn’t try to tempt me with a glass of wine and the cheese board.
I’ll let you know how I get on!

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Is it faux depression?

Where I live, the Thames riverside is gorgeous at the moment, lined with golden leafed trees. But let’s not forget that these are also a sign that we are in the season of melancholy – the time when, once the clocks change, next week, we will all start talking about SAD – even if we don’t actually suffer from it ourselves.

It is a condition that is supposedly relieved by a bit of extra vitamin D and sunshine, or light treatment, but there are many other causes of faux depression too.

. It could be your hormones...
We all know about PMS – but in its most severe form, it can be mistaken for clinical depression, with weepiness, loss of self-confidence, energy and libido. Unfortunately no amount of antidepressants will help – and your condition will just continue to get worse. Suspect your hormones if you were well balanced in pregnancy but then suffered postnatal depression, and dramatic mood swings (sometimes mistaken for bipolar disorder) or a permanent dip in mood after having your baby. The pattern of mood changes isn’t always clearly linked to your period when it’s this severe, but treatment with oestrogen gel together with testosterone and seven days of progesterone pills a month stabilises hormones and successfully treats this type of depression, according to Professor John Studd of the London PMS and Menopause Centre.
. You may need a test for vitamin B12 
Vitamin B12 (from animal products such as fish, meat, poultry, eggs and milk) helps with the manufacture of key brain chemicals affecting mood, and if you’re not getting enough from your diet, this can leave you feeling weepy and drained with mood swings, poor concentration, and fear of social situations. Again, classic symptoms of depression! Some people develop an inability to absorb B12 from the digestive tract – a condition known as Pernicious Anaemia, which has to be diagnosed by a specific blood test. ‘In an ideal world everyone going to their doctor with symptoms of depression should be tested for B12 deficiency,’ says Carrie-Anne Carr of the Pernicious Anaemia Society. ‘Three of our members have been sectioned when all they needed was B12 treatment. It costs the NHS about 26p to give a B12 injection (ideally once a month if you need it), compared to £26 for a month’s supply of antidepressants you don’t really need. The next best thing to an injection is a B12 lozenge that melts under the tongue, fast tracking it into your bloodstream.’

. You could just need to get out more...
When you miss out on exercise, you also miss out on the cascade of feel good endorphins that it triggers. Research shows that a brisk 20-30 minute walk works as well as a mild tranquillizer, and  the mental health charity Mind says research regular supervised exercise is proven to be just as effective as antidepressants for mild to moderate depression. Tip: walk outdoors – it’s twice as likely to boost your mood as indoor exercise according to a Mind study.

 . You’ve got a sweet tooth
Too much sugar leads to blood sugar highs and lows – and the lows are associated with big dips in mood, as well as cravings for more sugar, warns Patrick Holford, author of ‘Say No To Diabetes’ (£13.99 Piatkus). ‘The worse your blood sugar balance, the worse their mood will be – and diabetics, whose condition makes it difficult to control blood sugar, have a very high rate of depression. Sugar cravings can be brought on by a dip in levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which is made from the natural amino acid 5-HTP. Taking a 5-HTP supplement (eg Biocare 5-HTP, £17.50 for 60 capsules) can dramatically improve both your mood – and your craving for sugar.’

. Maybe you’re not eating enough fat
Or at least not enough of the right type of fat. ‘Modern diets are rich in omega-6 (from processed foods, biscuits etc) and often low in long-chain omega-3 fats and this imbalance can leave us deficient in mood-regulating ‘good fats’ such as EPA,’ says Nutrition Scientist Dr Nina Bailey, Nutrition Scientist. ‘You need sufficient levels of EPA to create feel-good chemicals tryptophan and serotonin. The prescription-strength supplement Vegepa E-EPA 70, £13.99 for 60 capsules - available from,, has been shown to be as effective as antidepressants. As with conventional medication, however, dosage is essential – 1 gram daily for a minimum of three months is required for therapeutic effects.’

. Or it’s because you’re already taking other medicines...
An A-Z of common medicines list depression as a possible but undesirable side effect – including many for heart disease, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and even some drugs used for anxiety, says pharmacist Shaina Shipton, who’s co-founder of ‘If you suspect you’re depressed as a result of something you’re taking, ask your pharmacist for a Yellow Card form to report an adverse reaction to the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority (MHRA), visit your doctor as soon as possible for advice (eg reducing the drug or finding an alternative), and don’t stop taking the medication unless your doctor advises this.

.  And if you do just need more sunshine...
We get vitamin D from sunshine, and SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is notorious for affecting 1 in 50 people during the winter months, with as many as 1 in 8 getting a milder form of winter blues. But experts now realise that even in the summer months it’s hard for Brits to get enough vitamin D from sunshine, and research has shown that half of us have insufficient levels – and this is especially the case if you’re depressed, says women’s health guru Dr Marilyn Glenville. ‘You may also be more likely to develop PMS if you are lacking in vitamin D, so top up with a good multivitamin eg NHP's Healthy Woman Support (£22.97 for 60 capsules from health shops) which contains 400iu of vitamin D3.’

Sunday, 23 September 2012

The bitter sweet truth about sugar

I’m fond of telling people I don’t have a sweet tooth – “Oh no, not me,” I say. “Give me something savoury like cheese any day...”

But when I told a nutritionist about my typical breakfast – yogurt, sweetened with honey, with a sliced banana or mixture of fresh berries on top, she raised an eyebrow. “That’s one big sugar fix!” she said.

I had to admit it – the yogurt on its own is too sour for me. And even the banana isn’t enough to stop me wincing.

I also need a sweet fix at the end of the working day – around 7.0 pm, I will start craving a glass of wine, or picking at any pastries lying around in the kitchen.

To stop these cravings I need to stabilise my blood sugar so it doesn’t dip and set me thinking about sweet things – but that’s easier said than done.

Although I can probably monitor my sugar consumption quite easily, as I tend to eat fresh home cooked foods, and rarely deliberately add sugar to anything (the big exception being the honey on my yogurt), temptations to eat processed high sugar foods are ever present.

Nutritionists say we should get no more than 10% of our daily calories from sugars of all types (from jam, honey, fruit, juices and other added sugars) – that’s around 50g (12 ½ teaspoons) of sugar a day. But the average UK citizen consumes 38 kg of sugar in a year – 26 teaspoons and 400 sugar calories a day according to the World Health Organisation. It’s in everything – start reading the labels.

Obesity researcher Zoe Harcombe says: ‘Try to buy a bread without sugar in it, or a soup, or a sauce/dressing or a ready meal. Check your vitamin tablets and even your sausages! Don’t be surprised to see some form of sugar (eg dextrose or fructose) on the list of ingredients. I can count on one hand the number of cereals without sugar. It has found its way into virtually every fake (processed) food on the market. Why? Because it's a cheap filler, it prolongs shelf life, and it appeals to the human sweet tooth. Forget that we're supposed to eat food for its nutritional content - sugar is added for any reason other than because it makes a product healthy.’

Kath Dalmeny of Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, adds that ‘studies show that a processed, junk food diet is right up there with smoking and alcohol as a danger to our health.’

And Professor Robert Lustig, professor of clinical paediatrics at the University of California, and an expert in childhood obesity, says that sugar is behind the obesity epidemic and the huge rise in conditions such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s that are together killing more than 35 million people every year.

According to Professor Lustig sugar programmes us to eat more – by switching off the satiety hormone leptin that tells us we’re full. There’s even a biological reason why it does this – because when we were hunter-gatherers we needed to binge on sweet fruit at harvest time when there was an abundance of it, and that made up for the lack of fruit through winter.

But sugar in processed food is an anti-nutrient because it takes nutrients to digest it, and gives us nothing in return, says Zoe Harcombe. ‘Whereas we need fat and would eventually die without any fat in our diet, we need only 1tsp of sugar in our blood at any time and even a large apple will give us five times as much as that.’

The problem is that it’s hard to give sugar up – and that makes it very easy for marketing people to persuade us to eat more of it, never mind what it does to our health.

‘We all have an innate love of sugar and that’s what helped us seek out fruit when we lived as primitive hunter-gatherers,’ says Kath Dalmeny. ‘But now we’re surrounded by sugary foods – with sweet “treats” popping up to tempt us in the most unexpected aisles of the supermarket.

‘Never go shopping on an empty stomach – when you’re most likely to succumb to these sweet treats,’ Kath warns.

Sugar – in particular fructose -- gets stored as fat by the body when we cannot use it all up, and most of us are eating far more than we can use in energy.

I am going to start by swapping my honey for Xylitol – which is completely sugar free  - and my banana for berries, which aren’t so sweet... I’ve tried it before and it’s great. BUT, even then, I will still be pandering to my desire for something sweet, and nutritionists say I should be giving up on all sweet additives. Only then will I start to enjoy the natural flavours and sweetness of food.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Could you be lacking in B12?

I’ve been amazed by the exponential interest in vitamin D deficiency over the past couple of years – now everyone’s talking about it, writing about it, and worrying about it... But maybe that’s just a sign of general awakening to the importance of all vitamins and minerals. 

Most recently I’ve been writing about the desperate repercussions of a B12 deficiency. 

One expert, Dr Joseph Chandy, reckons this could be responsible for 20% of all chronic disease worldwide. And the fact that we live in the UK, where most of us should have access to adequate amounts of the many foods (including beef, cheese, and even marmite!) that provide B12, does not mean that we can take our B12 status for granted. If we lack the wherewithall to metabolise this vitamin, we will not reap its benefits – no matter how much we eat. 

This becomes more of a problem as we get older (past 65, B12 deficiency is a major cause of dementia – and experts say it should always be considered first when Alzheimer’s is being diagnosed) but some people are just born unlucky. Forgetfulness is just one symptom of B12 deficiency. Tiredness is another big one, and so is numbness of the limbs – with cases of assumed MS turning round dramatically when patients are treated with B12. 

You can read more about this fascinating – and very easily treated – condition in my article ‘the 60p injection that can boost your flagging energy’ in this week’s Daily MailBut, before you do, I’d just like to mention the case of Fiona Porter-Smith, a GP from Penarth, Glamorgan.

Fiona was already passionate about B12 treatment, when she too was diagnosed with B12 deficiency and Pernicious Anaemia (the condition that causes a deficiency no matter what your diet is like) three years ago.

She told me: ‘I was tired and had a low mood – classic symptoms - but ironically, despite my knowledge, I didn’t think of vitamin B12 deficiency. Then I developed very bad pins and needles in my hands and feet, and, fearing Multiple Sclerosis, I went to my own GP. A blood test showed I was low in B12, but I thought that was just something else we’d stumbled on – not the cause of my ‘MS’.

‘B12 treatment – even at very high doses – did not seem to help. But then I discovered that the B12 we use in the UK, Hydroxocobalamin, is inactive and needs to be converted by the body before it can be used by it. Not everybody can do this.

‘Meanwhile in the USA a ready converted – active - form, Methylcobalamin, was being used.’

Fiona, 41, now takes very high doses of the US form of vitamin B12. She can only obtain it from a private consultant in the UK, and it costs her nearly £200 a month – but it keeps her mood and energy up. And, now cured of her pins and needles and fear of MS, she has gone on to have her first baby, Alfred, three months ago. Aah... We journalists do love a happy ending!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

What are you whistling?

My husband and I have both been whistling ‘I can’t give you anything (but my love)’ by the Stylistics – from the 70s...

I started it, after watching Alan Yentob’s Imagine show on the power of the falsetto.

I think my husband started joining in after I told him about the show’s observation that women love a good male falsetto...

Steve’s whistling may not be up there with Russell Thompkins’ singing. But it’s a sure sign of happiness to be whistling or singing anything, regardless of talent.

And there’s also mounting evidence that singing is good for our health. It’s a known mood booster and now also proven to guard against memory loss. 

In one Japanese study participants who sang along as they worked out retained 70% more information than those who only exercised – even though exercise alone also sends blood to the brain to improve memory.

And, here’s a thing, when I asked Steve the name of that song we were whistling there was no hesitation - he came straight out with it!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Fat chance

Another email from a happy interviewee – and my heart danced with joy when this one arrived today.

Leanne Snowball suffers with a condition called lipoedema – it’s what used to be known as elephantitis. She was embarrassed talking about it, but had decided too few people understood the condition. She even bravely allowed us to publish pictures of her in this week’s That’s Life! magazine. Today she wrote to thank me for the way her story appeared.

Here it is...

‘I was ten years old when my periods started, and my body suddenly ballooned.
My mum, Angela Pink, 31, couldn’t understand it. All through my teens she thought I was overeating in secret. I swore I wasn’t – I was an unusually fussy eater who’d always hated crisps and sweets, along with most other foods.
But nobody could believe that I had really got so big from my tiny portions of plain chicken, pasta and salads.
At school I hid my body under my black blazer and trousers.
I hated dressing up and drawing attention to myself and, when, at 18, I met my first serious boyfriend, Robert Snowball, 19, I used text messaging as a way of helping him get to know me better between dates because I was so scared my size would be a turn off.
We fell in love and married on Robert’s 22nd birthday, when I was 20.
At 21 I started working as a midwife and knew I should practice what I was preaching, and lose weight before starting my own family.
By 23 I’d lost nearly four stone – but it had all come off my torso. My arms and legs remained just as big as ever – and I needed size 28 trousers. 
I started to realise I could become anorexic and still have these huge embarrassing limbs.  It seemed so odd that I searched my symptoms on the internet and found Lipoedema or “Painful Fat Syndrome” - the modern name for what people used to call Elephantitis.
It caused the metabolism to slow down so anything a sufferer ate was likely to be stored as fat. But the main problem was the fatty build up on the limbs. It wasn’t just permanent, but also extremely tender and painful. My limbs were unbearably tender. I seemed to be a classic case.
Yet I was scared to approach my doctor... After all my dieting, and all the years Mum had thought I was stuffing myself, I would have been mortified if he dismissed my online diagnosis and said “No – You’re just fat!” 
It wasn’t until I’d had my sons Alexander, when I was 26, and Benjamin, when I was 28, that the pain got so bad that I finally went to a doctor I knew and trusted from work.
I could have cried when he agreed I had lipoedema. But the bad news was the excess fat had blocked my lymph nodes and now I also had a lot of painful excess fluid that couldn’t drain away – a condition called lymphoedema. 
My doctor referred me to a nurse specialist for treatments to reduce the fluid build up.
But nothing could or ever will shift the stubborn fat on my limbs. Even if I resorted to liposuction, which some women do, it could make the condition worse!
The pain is now so bad I need a morphine like painkiller – but it’s so zonking I daren’t take it when I’m looking after my boys, so can only get relief at weekends when Robert can take over.
Even worse, Lymphoedema makes cuts and bruises so slow to heal that some sufferers have had their infected limbs amputated.
That is a terrifying thought, but there are experts working on a cure!
In the meantime, I hope my story will warn other women not to ignore unusually stubborn fat. If your weight seems wrong for the amount you eat, then it probably is!’