Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Are expectant mothers getting heavier?

In an earlier post, I referred to a study that looked at women who gained weight between their first and second pregnancies. The study found that inter-pregnancy weight gain carries some health risks.

I tried to share this information with other mothers in an online forum but I was criticized for circulating falsified research findings. A woman's weight, my critics claimed, has no bearing whatsoever on the outcome of her pregnancy. The capacity of the human mind to believe anything is infinite.

I wonder whether these critics, who are quite possibly overweight, would dismiss just as blithely the recent report by researchers from UK-based North East Public Health Observatory which states that maternal obesity is on the rise. The research team consider this a "serious public health time bomb" and they want urgent action to be taken to stop it.

An article about the research explains why being overweight during pregnancy is a risk for both mother and baby. Obesity is a factor in 35% of maternal deaths.

Tuesday, 30 January 2007

Smoke-Free Spaces

Many non smokers do not want to inhale other people's smoke. I find it annoying when someone lights up in a public place, deliberately ignoring the rights of others not to be subjected to the noxious fumes from their cigarettes.

And so I was pleased to read a news article saying that the European Union's Health Commissioner has called for a ban on smoking in public places in EU member states. Smoking in public is already banned in Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Sweden.

The rest of Britain is expected to follow suit later this year. I can't wait for that to happen.

Monday, 29 January 2007

Eat Less, Live Longer?

It's generally agreed that diet and exercise are both important tools for people who want to lose weight. But many believe in the supremacy of one over the other.

Now, a new study seems to show that the same amount of weight is lost through dieting as is done through taking exercise. But the research findings seem to contradict a few well-known concepts about diet and exercise, as this article shows.

And there is even a small suggestion from the research team that cutting calories might extend life. Interesting.

Sunday, 28 January 2007

Body Fat and Health

A body fat monitor is a scientific device that measures the percentage of body fat a person has. Many people think that being a normal weight means having a healthy amount of body fat. Wrong. I realized this when I got a body fat monitor for use in my work. I found quite a few slim people who had a high percentage of body fat. This isn't good for the health.

A small study carried out recently seems to show that people who are a normal weight but have high body fat (referred to as "normal weight - obese" in the study) may have an increased risk of heart disease. More information on this research is here.

Saturday, 27 January 2007

A Networking Question

Networking is a skill and I'd like to get better at it. I've always thought there had to be more to networking than exchanging business cards with as many people as possible at "networking" events.

So I was pleased to read a blog post by Ben Yoskovitz titled "The most important question you can ask when networking". Very interesting post.

Friday, 26 January 2007

Violence Against Women Endangers Health

Violence against women is a worldwide problem. It exists in various communities, regardless of race, nationality, culture, or socioeconomic class.

Violence against women is a reflection of the unequal status of women in relation to men. It is an under-reported crime and a human rights issue. And it's also bad for women's health.

At the World Social Forum (WSF) in Kenya this week, activists stressed the link between violence against women and the spread of HIV. This may explain why more women than men are infected with the virus. More on the violence-HIV connection in this news report.

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Are You Getting Enough Fibre?

I don't think you could place too much emphasis on the importance of eating enough fibre. It's essential to good health, and not just because it helps keep us "regular".

We need about 30 grams of fibre a day. The average Briton gets about 12 grams.

New research at the University of Leeds has shown that fibre can reduce the risk of breast cancer in younger women. However, eating fibre does not seem to have the same cancer-reducing effect on post-menopausal women who are overweight or obese, as they have a greater risk of breast cancer.

You can read more about the research here.

Tuesday, 23 January 2007

"Flaming" as Freedom of Expression

I posted to an online forum recently and got "flamed" (defined in Wikipedia as "the act of sending messages that are deliberately hostile or insulting"). I responded to the unfounded accusations, taking care to use courteous and restrained language but I got flamed some more. So I decided to stay away from the forum.

I contacted the website owners asking that my posting be deleted so that it would not attract any more flaming. The website owners refused to oblige. They claimed that freedom of expression meant forum members could post any messages they wanted and I had the right to respond. But responding only seemed to spark more personal attacks from these people, so of course I wasn't going to give them the pleasure. That would be a total waste of my time.

The website owners' assertion that forum members had absolute freedom of expression was not, strictly speaking, accurate. Members are not allowed to make any references to rival sites. So much for the website owners' mantra of freedom of expression.

Sounds like hypocrisy to me.

Monday, 22 January 2007

Africa's Health Plans

I am saddened by the news about events in sub-Saharan Africa. I can almost empathize with the African American journalist who said some years ago he was thankful his "ancestors got on that slave ship". I don't think his ancestors would have agreed with him but, hey, he's entitled to his opinion.

I was reminded of that comment today after I read a news article called "Africa's failed health plan costing 40 million lives". Depressing is all I can say.

Saturday, 20 January 2007

Gambling Addiction

The British Medical Association (BMA) has called for problem gambling to be recognized as an addiction and for treatment to be available on the NHS (National Health Service). Just like the services that deal with alcohol and drug dependency. More about this story here.

Not everyone is going to back this proposal. Why should gambling addicts, instead of, say people who have fertility problems, be entitled to free treatment? What about sex addiction? Reminds me of the convicted rapist who tried to get Viagra on the NHS (his doctor said he was depressed because he suffered from impotence). No, I didn't make that up.

And if gambling addicts are to have access to NHS treatment, should health professionals expect to see more problem gambling after the Gambling Act comes into force in September? This piece of legislation will increase gambling facilities in the UK. The plot thickens...

I read an article in which the writer (also a gambler) opposed the BMA's proposal, saying that character flaws should not be seen as illnesses. Gamblers, the commentator argued, ought to take personal responsibility for their gambling, like he did. I think he's raised an interesting point.

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Frozen in Time: The Ashley Case

It's not surprising that Ashley's story has sparked so much controversy.

Ashley is the nine year old brain-damaged girl whose parents have opted for medical treatment to keep her "frozen in time", for her own benefit. The parents have written about the difficult choice they made, and some people have expressed their support.

Others, like British disability organization Scope, have voiced their disapproval for what they consider the abuse of Ashley's human rights. Scope has launched a campaign to prevent a similar situation from arising in the UK. More about the campaign here.

I don't, however, see the issues in this case in black and white. And I'd ask anyone to walk the proverbial mile in Ashley's parents' shoes, before criticizing them.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Water Intoxication?

Most of us know we need to drink 6 to 8 glasses of water to maintain good health. Well, the amount of water may vary depending on who's doing the recommending.

They say you can have too much of a good thing, and it seems the same thing applies to water. It is possible to drink too much water, as a recent news report shows.

A young woman in the US died last week after taking part in a water-drinking contest held on air. The "Hold your wee for a Wii" radio contest, was to see how much water the 18 contestants could drink without going to the bathroom (the prize on offer was a Nintendo Wii). Ten employees of, including three DJs have since been fired by the California-based radio station that aired the contest.

You can read the sad story here.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

The Heart Is Not Too Old

It's never too late to start getting healthier.

Maintaining a healthy weight can help reduce the risk of heart disease. And a new study shows that older people who are obese can improve their heart health through diet and exercise.

It is often harder for elderly people to make lifestyle changes. But the study showed that it can be done. That's heartening news.

For more information on this, go here.

Monday, 15 January 2007

Diet Doughnuts

Doughnuts are not generally considered to be healthy food. Many of us know that, doughnut-lovers included.

Now, it seems that some doughnuts are getting a 'makeover', and being reinvented as "healthier" versions of the sugary, fat-loaded lump of dough. Makers of "all-natural" and "all-organic" doughnuts, say they do not contain trans fats, also known as partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

Trans fats are thought to clog the arteries, boost "bad" cholestrol and lower "good" cholestrol, thereby increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Enter the "new and improved" doughnuts. Despite being free of trans fats, these doughnuts are still, well, made from dough. Which means they contain a fair amount of calories, but not necessarily essential nutrients. I was impressed by the honest comment of one maker of "natural" doughnuts, quoted in this news article :

"I'm not saying this is good for you. But it's definitely not as bad."

I think that's putting it mildly.

Sunday, 14 January 2007

Benefits of a Bilingual Brain

I've always believed that being able to speak more than one language is beneficial in many ways.

Like being able to communicate with a wider audience, and gaining a better understanding of different cultures. And it's been my experience that learning a second language makes it easier to learn a third.

And now, it appears that being fully bilingual is good for the health. benefits. A study done in Canada found that using more than one language every day for most of one's life could delay the start of dementia by up to four years. Apparently, this protective effect can be attributed to the fact that speaking two languages engages parts of the brain that need constant exercise to stay robust and fight off dementia. There is no known cure for this illness.

You can read more about this research here.

Saturday, 13 January 2007

What's yoghurt got to do with pain relief?

I like yoghurt but I didn't know it could help relieve stomach ache. A "friendly" bacterium found in yoghurt and probiotic drinks may be used to treat serious abdominal pain. You can read more about this finding by a team of scientists here.

Friday, 12 January 2007

Weight gain between pregnancies

Preeclampsia is an illness that affects women during pregnancy, or straight after the baby is born. It can affect both the woman and her unborn baby. After a relative of mine was affected by this illness, I decided to see if research had shown a link between a woman's weight and her risk of developing preeclampsia. Here's what I found on the Action on Preeclampsia website.

A study of 150,000 women found that those who gained weight after their first baby risked serious complications during a second pregnancy.
Even women who were not overweight but who gained weight after their first baby were at risk if they had a second one.

The study looked at the body mass index or weight-height ratio (BMI) of the women both after their first and before their second pregnancy. Researchers found that a gain of one or two BMI units increased, by an average of 20 to 40 percent, a woman's risk of pregnancy-linked diabetes, high blood pressure, or babies with a high birth weight. An increase of three or more BMI units resulted in a 63% greater chance of stillbirth compared with a gain of less than one BMI unit.

The research was carried out by Eduardo Villamor, from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, in collaboration with Sven Cnattingius, from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. According to Dr Villamor, women do not need to become overweight or obese between pregnancies to increase their risk of serious complications. Even a moderate increase in weight between the first and second pregnancy could result in serious illnesses. Weight loss in overweight women seemed to lower their risk of pregnancy complications.

In The Lancet medical journal Dr Villamor said: “A key public health message from our study is that women of normal weight should avoid gaining weight between pregnancies. In addition, overweight and obese women are likely to benefit from weight loss if they are planning to become pregnant.”

Thursday, 11 January 2007

False Formula

Whoever said advertising doesn't work?

According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an increasing number of Americans wrongly believe that infant formula is as good as breast milk, "despite widespread information on the benefits of breastfeeding". At the same time, it appears more Americans are uncomfortable with mothers breastfeeding in public. Seems to me, the same applies to breastfeeding in the UK.

[Full disclosure - I'm a breastfeeding mother myself and I do it in public sometimes.]

The Center's findings, reported in the January edition of the American Dietetic Association, "underscore the need to educate the general public that breastfeeding is the best way to feed and nurture infants".

Two nationwide surveys conducted in 1999 and 2003 showed that the number of Americans who agreed that formula is as good as breastmilk rose from 14.3% in 1999 to 25.7% in 2003. Although breastfeeding rates in the US have been on the rise since 1990, the percentage fell for the first time between 2002 and 2003, from 70% to 66%.

The CDC researchers attribute this drop in breastfeeding can be attributed partly to the introduction in 2002 of infant formulas that were advertised as "mimicking the positive influence of breastmilk" on brain and vision development. The researchers also pointed out that the amount spent on advertising infant formula increased from $29 million in 1999 to $46 million in 2004.

Advertising sure works. In this case it seems to have obscured the fact (for some people anyway) that there is a world of difference between the real thing and something that "mimicks" the real thing.

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

The Thinnest Cut

Obesity operations have increased in the U.S.

A study released today reports that more than 120,000 Americans had some kind of surgery to lose weight in 2004. In 1998, 772 people aged 55-64 had a gastric bypass, stapling or a similar procedure known as bariatric surgery, but that number increased to 15,086 in 2004, according to the Agency for Healthcare Researcy and Quality.

One of the reasons for the increase in obesity surgery, according to the agency, is the reduction in deaths from surgery-related complications. The national death rate fell from 0.9% in 1998 to 0.2% in 2004. I guess that's good news. For those who are considering surgery, anyway.

The agency says that a growing number of younger people are undergoing obesity surgery. Of the over 120,000 people who had surgery in 2004, 103,000 were aged 18-54, and 349 were aged 12-17. The agency says that the health care system should be prepared for an increase in the rate of obesity surgery and its potential complications.

The average cost of an obesity operation, excluding physician fees, was over $10,000 in 2004.

Given the cost and the potential complications of weight-reducing surgery, I don't understand why many people neglect to control their weight through diet and exercise in the early stages of weight gain, before they start to feel desperate. I'm not keen on operations of any kind, not even a "minor" one. So, how could I understand why anyone would choose to have drastic obesity surgery?

Monday, 8 January 2007

Housework is good for women's health

Did you do a double take after you read the title of today's posting? I know I would. It sounds sarcastic or provocative, but it's not - just the plain truth. According to a new research, anyway.

The Cancer Research UK-funded study involving 200,000 women from nine European countries found that doing housework can reduce the risk of breast cancer. Seriously. The research looked at both pre- and post-menopausal women doing a range of physical activities such as work, leisure and housework. When taken together, all forms of activities reduced tbe breast cancer risk in post-menopausal women, but had no visible effect on pre-menopausal women.

Only housework, of all the activities, significantly reduced the risk of breast cancer in both pre- and post-menopausal women. In fact, doing household chores cut the risk by 30% among the first group and 20% among the latter.

The women in the research were studied over an average of 6.4 years. They spent an average of 16 to 17 hours a week doing housework. The results of the research suggested that moderate forms of physical activity like housework may be more important than more intense but less frequent activity in reducing breast cancer risk.

It has long been known that exercise can reduce the risk of breast cancer. Women who maintain a healthy weight are also less likely to develop breast cancer, according to Dr Lesley Walker of Cancer Research UK.

So if you're a woman and you don't enjoy doing housework (I still don't), you might begin to see it as a health-enhancing activity. I imagine some men will use this as another reason not to do any household chores. Well, I'm off now - to do some housework, of course.

Sunday, 7 January 2007

Saved by the search engine

I admit I'm seriously addicted to the internet. If I was asked what (not who) I would take with me to a remote island, it would be any gadget that would give me access to the internet.

I also like search engines, especially Google. No, I haven't been paid to promote Google, honest. It's just that I've been able to find a lot of life-enhancing information via their search engine. And so I can understand why Louise Barker feels that Google saved her daughter's sight.

I read Ms Barker's story in the Reader's Digest; it seems to have been first published in The Guardian. Ms Barker's daughter was born with a birthmark that two health visitors, five GPs and four midwives said was nothing to worry about. But Ms Barker WAS worried because the birthmark was growing "like some alien" and she kept asking about it during her daughter's six-week check. To keep her quiet, she said, she was offered a non-urgent appointment with a dermatologist.

Ms Barker was, however, desperate to get to the root of her daughter's strange birthmark and so she "Googled" it. Within minutes, she found photos of the same condition her daughter had. She emailed the Birthmark Support Group and within 24 hours, a parent who helped run the group arranged an appointment at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. Long story short, Ms Barker's daughter was diagnosed with a rare condition that could have caused her to go blind. The consultant who treated her was thrilled to able to save her sight as he sees many children with reduced prospects as a result of poor diagnosis and referral.

Ms Barker doesn't recommend people "second-guess their GPs with Googled symptoms" but she believes the Net can be a godsend. I know it's helped me too. When I had an unusual (for me) condition affecting my wrist, the GP I saw recommended surgery or steroid injections for what I was told could be a chronic condition. Now I'm not keen on surgery or strong drugs and so I decided to search for less invasive alternatives. So I googled my symptoms (the GP had told me the name of the condition but I forget what it's called) and found that it could take months to recover from surgery, not to mention the risks involved. I opted for a few sessions of physiotherapy as well as taking nutritionally advanced supplements that I also happen to market. Within a month, I was pain free.

Moral of the story: we're all responsible for maintaining our own health. And Google's a great search engine.

Saturday, 6 January 2007

Counting calories

I'm an online junkie and I like to trawl the internet for information on various subjects. All wholesome, of course.

I found an interesting post which I thought I'd share. If you are into healthy eating, you might find this helpful, and even if you're not, just take a look anyway. You don't have to change anything about the way you eat if you don't want to.

Do you know what 200 calories look like? Go here to see colourful pictures. You may be surprised.

It's late so I'm off to bed. I hope I don't count calories in my sleep (hey, that's got to be better than counting sheep!)

Friday, 5 January 2007

All you can eat

In January many people think about losing weight. Either because they stuffed themselves over the holiday period or because they make a new year resolution to control their weight. Unfortunately, many resolutions are short-lived.

I'm interested in the different approaches to weight control . Take weight loss surgery, for instance. I've just read an interesting article on the subject. What follows may be too graphic for some. You've been warned.

Apparently, a gastric balloon can be placed down your oesophagus to control obesity. Once inside your stomach, the balloon is inflated, causing it to take up space so that you eat less. Some doctors have even proposed a sleeve that can be shoved up your intestines to block calorie consumption.

Weight loss surgery involves stomach-intestine procedures. The intestinal part bypasses your bowels so that you don't absorb calories. With the stomach procedure, the aim is to reduce the amount you can eat by making you feel full. But it's now possible to stretch the reduced stomach by eating past the point of fullness. In the US, some doctors even offer to 'readjust' the gastric band so you can eat more.

The gastric bypass is supposed to discourage you from eating too much sugar - apparently your body suffers if you do. Still, it is possible to work around this limitation by having procedures focused on the intestines. These procedures reduce more fat than gastric bands and bypasses, and they allow you to have a much bigger stomach too.

These are all drastic procedures that are not without risk. Yet, reports suggest more and more people are undergoing weight loss surgery. It seems that people can now lose excess weight without changing their eating behaviour. As a weight loss coach, I believe that it is better to control one's weight through diet, exercise and self-restraint rather than surgery (if you need help with weight control, click here). But some doctors that carry out weight loss procedures may disagree.

Will the increasing availability of such procedures promote guilt-free gluttony? I don't know. What do you think?

Thursday, 4 January 2007

Chocolate Alert

I'm sure glad I don't have strong cravings for chocolate anymore.

Would nutritional labelling have helped me control my consumption? Perhaps, but not before I was ready to eat more healthily.

A campaign to promote nutritional labels is being launched by some of the UK's biggest food manufacturers, including the company that makes Mars and other chocolate bars. The labels will show percentages of guideline daily amounts (GDA) of sugar, salt, fat and calories in each serving.

The GDA labelling differs from the "traffic lights" system (with its red, amber or green labels) approved by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). The FSA says its research shows traffic light labels are easier to understand than the percentages used in the GDA system. The GDA group claims the opposite is true. But they also say consumers will avoid products with red labels. Could this be the real reason for the campaign?

I don't think the GDA group need worry that people will avoid products with red labels. Those who aren't interested in making healthy food choices will ignore all labels, just as many smokers ignore the health warnings on cigarette packs and the anti-smoking TV ads.

Nutritional labels of any type will help only people who WANT to eat healthier food.

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

Take control or take risks - your call

Just how much control does one have over one's life?

Depending on their worldview, people tend to ascribe a greater or lesser role to predestination, circumstances outside their control, or simply, "fate". In a survey conducted by Cancer Research UK, 4000 people were asked if they thought they could cut their risk of developing cancer or whether it was out of their hands.

In total, 27% said it was "down to fate" whether they would be affected by the disease. In the most deprived areas, the percentage of those who believed they had no control over their cancer risk rose to 43%, and in most privileged areas it was as low as 14%. Make of this what you will. The poll also showed that 34% of smokers and 36% of over 65s shared this worldview.

Dr Lesley Walker, the director of cancer information at Cancer Research, was shocked by the results of the survey. Dr Walker says that half of all cancer cases can be prevented by lifestyle changes. Smoking and obesity can increase the risk of cancer.

I know people who disagree with this. They say that life's too short to deny oneself of pleasures such as smoking or overeating. I can see how someone can think like that. What I don't understand though is why many people treat some of their possessions, take cars for instance, with much better care than they do their bodies. After all, a car can be replaced if it is beyond repair; the same can't be said of the body.

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

'Hair' Me Out

Hair is an emotive subject for many black women. When the terms 'good hair' and 'bad hair' have been used, they have often meant long, straight, soft and silky (Caucasian-like) hair; and short, coarse and tightly curled ('kinky', 'nappy', Afro) hair respectively.

From the pressing combs to the earlier straighteners, permanent relaxers, jheri curls and more recent weaves, black women everywhere have sought to make their hair 'more manageable'. Although so called 'natural styles' are increasingly being sported, most black women have their hair chemically processed in some way. For many years I had my hair processed despite extreme pain, discomfort and hair loss. Then ten years ago I made the decision to stop processing my hair. I continued to use vegetable dyes to cover grey hair (I went grey in my teens) until recently.

I remember when I first started wearing my hair in locks some years ago. A few black women, one of whom was a very close relative, made disparaging remarks and tried to talk me into wearing a more 'acceptable' hairstyle. Acceptable to whom? I told them it was my hair and I could choose what I did with it. And I believe that's true for everyone. I'm not going around telling women who choose to process their hair to go natural. The safety of the ingredients contained in many hair products, particularly those marketed to black women, have not been determined. And so I am careful about what I use on my hair.

Now I will get off my soap box. Below is some information you may find interesting.

I was inspired to write this post by an article that was forwarded to me by a friend (thanks, Mary). The article is by Debbie Norrell, a 15-year breast cancer survivor. You can read it Center of Environmental Oncology in Pittsburgh, U.S. has studied the links between personal care products and cancer. Their findings show a possible link between the use of certain products containing hormones like placenta and the greater incidence of breast cancer in black women under 40 (when compared to white women). You can read about the Center's research here.

I admit to using placenta-based products myself many years ago, and I shudder to think that I used them without thinking. Now I have questions like: how is the placenta obtained? What possibly unethical practices was I encouraging by my purchase of hormone-containing products?

While browsing the Center of Environmental Oncology's website, I also came across another interesting article. They have investigated the earlier onset of puberty in African-American girls (when compared to European- American girls) and while the causes have not been determined, it is thought that hormone-containing hair products used by black girls and their mothers may be a factor. You can read more about this here.

I found all of the above information interesting and wanted to share it with you, regardless of how you choose to wear your hair. You can forward this post to others by clicking on the envelope icon below. I will be updating this blog daily so you can either bookmark this page or click on the 'subscribe' link at the end of this post and you will be notified of updates.

I'd like to hear your comments. So if you've got an opinion on the subject, please share it by clicking on the 'comments' link below. Select 'Other' (not 'Anonymous if you want to enter the draw), enter your name and then type in your comment. As an incentive, everyone who sends in a comment by Saturday midnight GMT will have their name entered into a draw. The prize is a natural hair product, free of hormones, of course.

I hope you have a 'good hair' day.