Archive: Jul 2009

  1. The Organic Argument

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    In the last day or two the media has had some damning reports regarding organic food and health and I will try and reply to those of you who are calling me up and asking is this true – what do we believe?

    If we can do away with the term “organic” for one second. When my family were virtually self sufficient in the 1970’s, my father never used sprays. However we never used the term organic when we went to the bottom of the garden to pick our radishes, leeks, strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries and kale. It was just food. Supermarkets do put a premium on organic products and the consumer has a right to know if its really worth it. I think the argument for ethical reasons and taste has been won, the one about health is slightly more shady.

    When large trials are done, it’s best to google them and look at exactly how many people have been trialled and who has funded the trial – this is crucial in getting a balanced outcome. Who has the time or the inclination to do this ? Well I do, as its part of my job. Many trials are funded by companies that may want to promote, say GM foods instead. Its very very easy without lying to massage the figures to the outcome that suits your needs. Doing my research for my Masters I see this all the time.

    Two of the trials I have seen that I feel have been totally unbiased are the following (there are numerous more):

    Dairy foods – research found that organic milk is naturally higher in nutrients like Omega 3 and vitamin E.

    Tomatoes – have almost double the amount of flavanoids found in organic after a 10 year study.

    The trouble with pesticides and herbicides is that its almost impossible to trial the effects of the cocktail of these chemicals on humans as there are so many. You could possibly follow for example one particular pesticide over a period of 20 years and how it affects health but how would you trial the thousands of different mixes of different chemicals on the body. Then you would have to ask yourself what are they testing when they test the health of these people? What symptoms would tie in with eating pesticides for 20 years? More headaches for example? You see how difficult it is to monitor.

    For your information by the way The Environmental Working Groups “dirty dozen” i.e. the worst affected with sprays are peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, grapes (imported), pears, spinach, and potatoes. The “cleanest 12” are onions, avocados, sweetcorn (frozen), pineapples, mangos, sweet peas (frozen), asparagus, kiwis, bananas, cabbage, broccoli, and eggplants.

    My thoughts are these – fruit and veg, meat and dairy products have definite health benefits when eaten as “naturally” as possible. However organic tomato ketchup might not be worth the extra. I leave it up to your common sense and judgement and try not to believe everything you read in the media. If you want cheap organic food and love the taste and quality try getting an allotment or growing your own.

    See today’s article by Joanna Blythman for further discussion…

  2. Patient care not targets

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    I’m the biggest fan of GPs. My old family GP who recently retired knew me for about 35 years. He also treated my mother, father, brother and grandmother and was adored by all of us. Not once in those 35 years did we ever fall out or see him in a bad mood. He made us feel looked after, cared for, listened to and most of all, he made us feel important. He knew who we were as a family and had been there for us at every stage of our illnesses as we were growing up. As a newly qualified young GP he was there when my brother was fighting to breathe with croup, when I had measles during my O levels, when my father had a suspected heart attack and all the other minor ailments in between.

    In the last five years I have seen an alarming increase in the number of people consulting with me who are disatisfied with the time they have with their own GP. I would guess that this is around 60% of people I see. If there are any GPs reading this, this is not a GP bashing blog but there are concerns from many quarters that what used to be a caring service is now turning into a prescription writing service. That is not to say that there are not fantastic GPs out there doing amazing work who care for their patients. And I dont blame the GPs either, I blame government targets for the short time that you get with your GP.

    I have recently changed doctors surgeries as I never saw the same doctor twice. For me having a relationship with one GP is key. Going from one person to another is not continuity of care in my book. Changing GPs sadly got me nowhere as my new doctor had me in tears by the time I was ushered out having taken up about 7 minutes of their time. 7 minutes was not long enough to say what I had to say and 10 minutes is not nearly long enough to assess a patient if they have more than one complaint. Which is why of course, you have to book another appointment if you have another complaint. It just so happened that my one complaint was causing the other – to me that is one medical issue not two.

    I fear that the old fashioned type of doctoring went when my doctor retired. You remember the ones that actually looked you in the face, looked at the colour of your skin, listened to you, rather than tapping away at the computer, turned their chair round to face you, got you up on the couch and examined you properly. Basically took time to see if you were ok. I fear GPs are so time-poor that you go in with a problem, a prescription is written – job done, figures met. Two of my patients recently came to see me and they were bright lemon yellow – a sign of either B12 anaemia or pernicious anaemia. I’m not a GP but I saw it, they saw it, their families saw it but why didn’t their GP see it? Because they told me the doctors barely looked at them when there were in the surgery.

    I am not saying in any way that GPs are negligent but things have to change. Many people are so much better informed than they used to be and want to find out why they are ill, and whats causing their symptoms not just to take a pill and shut up.

    I’m lucky – I get an hour or an hour and a half with people so get to know them very well indeed. I think the time with patients needs to be extended to at least 15 minutes and double appointments which some surgeries to be an option for more complicated cases. What this does to the figures and targets and waiting lists is anyone’s guess. I spoke to a sonographer recently who said the waiting lists were way down but the time with each patient was just too short. I suppose its a toss up between seeing someone sooner for less time or waiting longer and seeing them for longer. I have found in the last ten years that the placebo effect of listening and reassuring people is extraordinary. The biggest compliment I can get is if a person leaves me saying – I feel better already. I’m not sure what the answers are and am clearly still living in nostalgic la la land of a time gone by!!

    I would welcome the comments you have on the time allowed with GPs.

  3. Bread – what is it we are actually eating?

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    (From an article featured on my monthly newsletter – click here to sign up for regular updates) is part of the staple diet of millions of people – but what is it that we are now actually eating? Bread has been made since the dawn of civilisation – in fact, it can be argued that bread is the foundation stone of civilisation as we know it, and it still forms part of the staple diet of millions of people around the world. Every day thousands of children ask for their daily bread when reciting the Lord’s prayer. But what is it exactly that they’re actually praying for? If they knew then they may well have second thoughts.

    Lets start with some facts. Changes in bread making have been quite drastic over the last 40 years. In 1961 The Chorleywood Bread Process was created, which used chemical additives, intense energy and high quantities of yeast to produce the maximum amount of loaves in the shortest time. Mostly all bread in the UK is made by this method or one that uses similar additives.

    The trouble comes if dough is not allowed to ferment for several hours. Natural bacteria doesn’t then have a chance to destroy harmful elements in the dough and therefore make important nutrients available to the human body. There is also the addition of genetically modified enzymes, added to flour and dough to make loaves larger and more “squishy”, so they have a longer shelf life. Worryingly some recent research has suggested that transglutaminase, an enzyme used in baking and food manufacturing, may change the gliadin protein in wheat flour into a form that may be toxic to the human body. If you’re thinking going organic will solve this problem, think again as even organic loaves made the same way can contain this, and cause the same problem.

    We have bred wheat to produce high yields in intensive growing conditions with little regard for its nutritional quality. Modern varieties have 30-50 per cent fewer minerals than traditional ones. Fast roller milling separates grain into its constituent parts so effectively that white flour has up to 88 per cent less of a range of minerals and vitamins than whole wheat. A recent study showed that organic stone-ground flour had 50 per cent more magnesium and 46 per cent more zinc than chemically grown roller-milled flour. So, what about refined flour – why is it so bad? Modern roller milling is extremely efficient at stripping away the nutrient rich outer layers of wheat grains, leaving behind not much more than starch and gluten. Additionally, the heat generated by the process actually destroys some of the compounds. Compared to whole wheat, refined white flour is highly depleted. These are the average amount of vitamin loss: Vitamin E 93%, Vitamin B6 87% ,Vitamin B2 81% ,Vitamin B3 80%, Iron 70% and Calcium 56%.

    To clear up any confusion, white bread is no longer bleached – they stopped that in the late 1990’s. Soya flour is often added to whiten it. Wholemeal or wholegrain will guarantee you the benefit of grain, however a loaf labelled “brown bread,” could be white flour coloured with caramel. Again, check the labels.

    Ok, so hopefully now you can see that bread is not all it appears. What ingredients should be in a real loaf? Simply… flour, water, yeast and a little salt.

    Let’s have a look at what other lovelies are now being added:

    E481 (sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate), E472e (mono- and diacetyl tartaric acid esters of mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids), E920 (l-cysteine), E282 (calcium propionate), E220 (potassium sorbate), E300 (ascorbic acid), E260 (acetic acid). Soya flour, vegetable fat and dextrose are just some of the other things that you might find in industrial bread.

    Bread additives explained
    Calcium Propionate. This is used to inhibit mould growth in bread – meaning that the bread has a much longer shelf life. However as well as being toxic to mould, calcium propionate can also be toxic to humans; possible side effects include: migraines and headaches, stomach upsets, skin rashes, nasal congestion, depression, tiredness, irritability, restlessness and attention problems to name but a few.

    Mono-and diglycerides. These chemicals are known as emulsifiers and are found in a variety of baked goods. Basically they allow oily substances and watery ones to mix more efficiently and give the finished bread a smoother texture. Mono and diglycerides have the additional function of prolonging the life of bread by keeping it from becoming stale.

    Potassium bromate. When added to bread, this acts as a dough conditioner and strengthener. Under the proper baking conditions, this additive is completely used up and doesn’t pose a threat to health. In certain cases where the bread isn’t baked long enough or at the proper temperature, small amounts may remain in the bread. This is of some concern since potassium bromate is classified as a possible carcinogen and banned in Europe as a food additive. This is best avoided when possible.

    Dextrose. Sometimes you’ll see dextrose on the ingredient list of a packaged bread. It is just another term for sugar. A small amount of sugar can be used when baking bread to provide fuel for the yeast that help the bread to rise.

    Sodium stearoyl lactate. This food additive helps to give the bread a lighter, more uniform texture. There doesn’t appear to be any significant health issues associated with its use although those with lactose intolerance, may find it exacerbates their symptoms.

    Partially hydrogenated oils. The other name for these undesirable food additives are trans fats. You’ve probably already heard about the health dangers of trans fats. If you see mention of any type of partially hydrogenated oil or fractionated oil on a bread ingredient label, steer clear of it.

    You may remember in a past newsletter about food labelling that I compared two packets of crisps and told you as a rule of thumb the lesser ingredients on the packet the better. This does not count when looking at the ingredients in bread. Due to an extraordinary labelling law the manufacturer does not legally have to declare that the following can also be added: phospholipase (can be pig or GM origin), fungal alpha amylase 9 (a known inhalant allergen), transglutaminase, xylanase, maltogenic amylase, hemicellulase, oxidase, peptidase and protease. I won’t bore you with what they are but wanted you to be aware that they can be in your loaf sitting in your bread bin as you read this!

    I think of myself as a rational human being(!), however if I eat bread with anti-mould agent in it, I feel like I’ve either been drugged or had to much alcohol and it takes about six hours to pass. You might like to ask yourself the question: is it the natural ingredients you are intolerant to – i.e. gluten, yeast etc., or is the additives? It doesn’t surprise me that people are riddled with symptoms when they eat “bad” bread because our poor bodies haven’t adapted to know how to digest this toxic loaf.

    So enough of the doom and gloom. What can you do to ensure that you are eating delicious “real” bread? Well, there are several options and it is quite possible to obtain bread without additives. Firstly try and use local bakeries – the bread is usually of better quality and you can chat with the baker and ask what is put in the loaf. If you don’t know how to, go on a bread making course and learn to make proper real bread. Get a bread making machine and use really good ingredients – after the initial cost of the machine, each loaf should cost about 50pence. After going out of fashion, bread making machines are back in vogue!. Obviously avoid breads that have the above ingredients where you can. You can buy additive free bread and slice it and freeze it, if you are concerned about it going off. Use companies that are still making bread in a real way. Try or go to for more information. For those of you who are really interested in this topic, I’d recommended these great books:
    Bread Matters: The State of Modern Bread and a Definitive Guide to Baking Your Own by Andrew Whitley – or,
    Bread: River Cottage Handbook No. 3 by Daniel Stevens, if you are looking to make your own bread.

    Coeliac disease
    If you think you have a problem digesting bread and have vague symptoms, go and see your GP who can arrange a blood test. These will include tissues transglutaminase antibody (tTGA) and/or endomysial antibody (EMA). More often than not it will come back negative. Coeliac disease is not just a bit of bloating, it is actually classed as an autoimmune disease. Symptoms can include: bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhoea, excessive wind, heartburn, indigestion, constipation, any combination of iron, vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiency, tiredness, headaches, weight loss (but not in all cases), recurrent mouth ulcers, hair loss (alopecia), skin rashes (dermatitis herpetiformis) joint or bone pain, neurological (nerve) problems such as ataxia, (poor muscle co-ordination), and neuropathy (numbness and tingling in the hands and feet). It is hard for GPs to diagnose as you can see the symptoms are varied and some quite common.

    “Coeliac disease affects 1 in 100 people in the UK however research suggests that only 1 in 8 of those affected have been diagnosed leaving 500,000 million people undiagnosed and at risk.” The Coeliac Society

    Dr Chris Steele, resident doctor of ITV’s This Morning and Ambassador for Coeliac UK said “I strongly support the need to raise awareness among the medical profession for diagnosing coeliac disease. It is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed. Working together we can help find the half million people in the UK who are undiagnosed and ensure they receive the best advice and assistance.”

    The average length of diagnosis is 13 years. Go to for more help and information.

    If you are not coeliac that doesn’t mean you don’t have problems digesting grains. There are IgE allergy tests for rye, oats, barley, maize (corn) wheat etc. which can be most useful to eliminate any underlying allergy problem. Sadly, these are not usually available on the NHS. Before you do this though, check the loaf of bread in the bread bin. You might want to swap it and see if the symptoms go. There will be a bread out there that doesn’t cause symptoms. Rotate bread types – pita or flattened breads often have less yeast, or try rye, spelt, gluten free etc. and more often than not you will find a bread that does suit you. If you guts are in good shape, you should be able to eat bread twice a day. It’s not a good idea to start the day with a grain based cereal, then have a sandwich for lunch and then pasta in the evening – that may be too much. Keeping a food and symptom diary might help eliminate the problem. Bread is so useful it seems a shame to eliminate it totally from the diet.

    (From an article featured on my monthly newsletter – click here to sign up for regular updates)

  4. Coffee and nutrition – the facts

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    (From an article featured on my monthly newsletter – click here to sign up for regular updates)


    • Globally a third of our liquid consumption is coffee. So for every three glasses of water being ingested, one cup of coffee is being drunk.
    • 7 million tonnes of coffee will be produced by 2010.
    • Health benefits from coffee are contradictory. Although coffee does contain antioxidants it has a negative effect on some health problems: e.g. it can increase acid reflux and interfere with the absorption of iron. Research suggests that drinking caffeinated coffee can cause a temporary increase in the stiffening of arterial walls, so it should be avoided if you suffer from high blood pressure. It is not good to drink if you are suffering from mental health issues, anxiety and depression or get heart palpitations.
    • Over 1,000 chemicals have been reported in roasted coffee; more than half of those tested are rodent carcinogens (and if you are wondering, decaffeinated can be even worse!).

    White sugar is highly addictive and can cause mayhem with your blood sugar. Sugar has been implicated in aggressive behaviour, anxiety, hyperactivity and ADHD, depression, eating disorders, fatigue and PMS. It is the one food that has no nutritional value whatsoever and the one food I am constantly trying to get my clients off when they are losing weight (rather than fat!). Because it is refined it has been stripped of all its minerals. Unrefined sugar like black strap molasses is still sweet but it has food value as it is high in chromium, b vitamins and iron. So if you need something sweet choose unrefined products instead.

    We are now consuming 38 kilos of sugar per person on average per year and with it the nations health is declining fast. During the second world war and after with rationing we were averaging less than a kilo per year. The bottom line is that sugar sells and the more we eat the more we crave and have less room for slow release carbohydrates. If you go back to the dawn of time and analyse the diet of cavemen, it was 65% carbohydrate, 17% protein and 16% fat. Today the stats are very different at 28% carbohydrate, 20% sugar, 40% fat and 12 % protein,

    Avoiding the sugar ‘rollercoaster’ by learning how to control your blood sugar levels is a great way to lessen depression and raise energy levels. Cut back on highly refined and sugar rich foods which create a surge in blood sugar that gives a burst of energy which is then followed by an all time low in both mood and energy. Your brain needs a constant supply of sugar for energy and by eating foods that cause this rollercoaster effect you disrupt brain function and neurotransmitter balance which results in poor mood stability. By focusing on foods that release sugar slowly and consistently into the blood stream like complex carbohydrates and by eating protein with each meal and snack you can start to change and lift your mood.

    I’m not trying to be a killjoy and say never drink coffee or have white sugar, (I’m all for a little of what you fancy does you good) but just check in every now and again to see if you are over doing it and try and find natural highs from good foods.

  5. Low blood pressure and the heatwave

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    Like many of my patients I can empathise with low blood pressure symptoms when the heat hits. At an extremely “healthy” 90/60 my blood pressure has been low most of my life. Although this is better than high it can leave you feeling giddy, dizzy, slightly spaced out and tired, especially in the heat. Do keep hydrated (obvious i know but dont forget). Also remember to keep you potassium and sodium levels up. A little organic sea salt on the food daily and foods high in potassium like bananas and tomato paste (!) can be incorporated into your daily diet routine. Don’t lie out in the sun and avoid saunas as well. Keep in the shade until the temperatures come to a more comfortable level for you. Also do move around a bit – the longer you sit or lie, the lower your blood pressure can be. Keep cool – I hear the heatwave will be gone by the weekend!