Vitamin D essential to health

The Government is now advising the public to take Vitamin D supplements in winter.   The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) has produced a report on Vitamin D levels for the Government, emphasising that everyone in Britain over the age of one should take 10 mcg of Vitamin D a day.

Sunshine accounts for 90 per cent of our intake of Vitamin D, which poses a problem for anyone living in northern Europe in winter time and even in summer (when you get poor summers like this one).

Deficiency in Vitamin D can lead to bone loss, poor muscle function and an increased risk of falls and fractures – an increasing problem as people get older.  Migraines, regular headaches,  joint pain, depression, SAD or insomnia can also point to a Vitamin D deficiency.   The Chief Medical Officer is suggesting extending free vitamins to more  young children, rather than just those from low income families who currently receive them.  Also at risk are pregnant and breastfeeding women and the over 65s, who should be taking supplements.   Not only is Vitamin D essential for the bones and heart it is also needed for a healthy immune and nervous system, enables blood to clot normally and maintains healthy teeth.

Why we become deficient:

  • In northern countries we have six months of very little sun.
  • Winter sun in the UK is not strong enough for Vitamin D to be made in the body.
  • Few people get enough Vitamin D from their diet.
  • The skin cancer message may have been taken to extremes – we need sunlight, but not excessive sun bathing.
  • Vitamin D in the body only lasts for three weeks.
  • Some people cover up their bodies for religious or fashion reasons.

All things in moderation mean that you don’t have to lie in the hot sun for hours on end to get enough exposure. A sensible amount of exposure (20 to 30 minutes) will do more good than harm, particularly on sunny summer days that aren’t necessarily hot.

Vitamin D is essential for healthy immune function, cognitive function, and bone health.

Dietary sources:

• Salmon and other oily fish
• Eggs
• Milk
• Liver
• Margarine
• Fortified breakfast cereals

Health experts claim that people are not eating enough of the above. In the US the recommended daily levels of intake of Vitamin day are 5 mcg a day.

Problems caused by Vitamin D deficiency
A deficiency in Vitamin D activates the mechanism that boosts blood pressure; stimulates the parathyroid hormone which increases inflammation, and increases insulin resistance – insulin is not recognised by the body, leading to high blood sugar levels.

• High blood pressure/hypertension
• Heart disease
• Alzheimer’s
• Diabetes
• Osteoporosis – affects 1.2 million women in the UK
• Colo-rectal and breast cancers
• Rickets (severe deficiency)


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The UK government recommends that pregnant women and nursing mums take 10mcg of Vitamin D daily. Breast fed babies need 7-8.5 mcg a day, while formula milk is fortified with Vitamin D. Although Vitamin D supplements are recommended to pregnant women and children under five, it is this advice is often overlooked by GPs and much of the official information is vague.

Australia changes its sun message

Seven charities in the UK have issued joint guidelines about Vitamin D, recommending short spells in the sun without suncream. Two of the charities endorsing the health message are Cancer Research UK and the National Osteoporosis Society.

According to the BBC, Professor Rona Mackie, from the British Association of Dermatologists, said sun protection with high factor suncream on all the time is not ideal, in terms of Vitamin D levels.

‘Even Australia has changed its policy on this. They’re now producing charts showing parts of Australia where sun protection may not be required during some parts of the year. Some of the messages about sun exposure have been too negative. UK summer sunshine isn’t desperately strong. We don’t have many days in the year when it is very intense.

‘What’s changed is that we’re now saying that exposure of 10 to 15 minutes to the UK summer sun, without sun cream, several times a week is probably a safe balance between adequate vitamin D levels and any risk of skin cancer.”




Arthritis – what to do

Arthritis kneeNine out of ten people have arthritis by the time they reach 50 and every year a whopping eight million go to see their doctor about it.

At its worst arthritis impairs mobility to such an extent that people can barely walk, their hands become disfigured and they suffer considerable pain. Even at this stage taking simple measures to alleviate it can improve quality of life, and better still if caught early there’s no need to get to this stage at all.

The best things to do to prevent it getting worse is to manage it.  Even doctors agree that the medication for arthritis can elicit unpleasant side-effects.

Some self-help tips: 

  • Massage hands or other affected areas with some ginger oil in a carrier oil.
  • Take turmeric, rosehip or glucosamine supplements (recommended brands at the end). Some work for some people, and others for other people.
  • Take a dessertspoonful of cider vinegar in a glass of water each day (or even before each meal) to reduce acidity. It turns to alkaline within the boday.
  • Eat a low acid diet – see below.
  • Have regular osteopathy, massage, acupuncture or chiropractic to unblock and loosen up joints and muscles.
  • Lose weight – if you’re overweight you are putting more pressure on hips, knees and feet.
  • Use turmeric in cooking – see The Spice of Life.
  • Exercise as much as you can.  Inactivity makes arthritis worse.  T’ai chi, yoga, walking, swimming, are all good.

There are two types of arthritis:

• Osteoarthritis is by far the most common one and means that there is a loss of cartilage (the protective surface over the ends of the bones).
• Rheumatoid arthritis affects more women than men, causes swelling and pain in the joints and is very debilitating.

Prevention is always better than cure so it is helpful to give yourself a fighting chance against arthritis well before it sets in.

It’s hard to meet anyone over 70 who isn’t rattling with drugs and more often than not these include medication for high blood pressure and for arthritis. However, even if someone is taking prescription drugs there’s no reason why they shouldn’t try some self-help to ease symptoms even more.

Why me?

There are a number of factors that could increase the likelihood of arthritis or aggravate it including:

• poor diet
• emotional stress
• hormonal imbalance
• allergies
• free radicals – the compounds that roam the body attacking healthy cells
• high homocysteine levels – the amino acid in the blood that in excess can cause Alzheimer’s and heart disease (see Features/Homocysteine)
• over-exercise in the case of athletes, gymnasts, ballerinas


Nutritional information

According to author of Cooking Without Made Easy, nutritionist Barbara Cousins, says, ‘An anti-inflammatory and low acidity diet which cuts out or reduces processed foods, salt, refined sugar and red meat is recommended. They should eat a lot of fish, and vegetables are crucial because they give much needed vitamins and minerals.

‘If possible I like people to eat organic food so that the body doesn’t have to cope with detoxifying pesticides and herbicides. It’s important to avoid acidic foods as most arthritis sufferers have an intolerance to them.’

Foods to avoid

Salt and salty foods such as bacon or kippers
Sugar in cakes, biscuits, chocolate, sweet drinks

Acid foods:

• Red meat
• Strawberries
• Tomatoes
• Citrus fruit
• Peppers
• Potatoes
• Aubergines

Saturated fats:

• Red meat
• Butter and cheese
• Cream and full cream milk

Healthy foods:

• Vegetables
• Brown rice
• Lentils and beans
• Free range chicken
• Fish
• Nettle tea
• Rosemary
• Brazil nuts
• WATER – if you drink loads of tea have plenty of spring or filtered water too.

Barbara says, ‘Eating these foods supports the liver and bowel so that they can eliminate toxins and raise blood sugar levels giving the internal organs more energy. They may notice improvements after a month, but it takes about a year with severe arthritis to overcome the disease and feel on top of it!’

Detoxing can be a difficult thing to go through for anyone not familiar with nutrition so it is always advisable to consult a nutritional therapist:

British Association of Nutritional Therapists, 08706 061284,
See Therapies/Nutrition.

Foods that reduce inflammation:

• Olives
• Green tea
• Grapes
• Raisins
• Onions

Natural painkillers:

• Ginger
• Turmeric

Herbal and homeopathic remedies

Homeopathic remedies are completely safe whether or not someone is taking medication, but herbal remedies can contraindicate certain drugs so check with a doctor or registered medical herbalist before mixing the two.

Homeopathic remedies:

• Arnica, particularly if arthritis starts after a fall
• Rhus tox – for stiffness

Herbal remedies:

• Devil’s Claw – anti-inflammatory herbal remedy
• White Willow Bark comes from the same source as aspirin and alleviates pain


• Research has shown good results for arthritis with rose hip supplements (see below).

  • Many people swear by Glucosamine** that helps to rebuild cartilage, repair damage and relieve pain
    • MSM (mineral sulphur) is often combined with Glucosamine and provides pain relief as arthritis sufferers may have a deficiency of sulphur
    • Chondoitrin** is often combined with Glucosamine because it attracts fluid into the cartilage making them more mobile
    • Omega 3 fish oils – reduce inflammation and increase mobility
    • Multivitamins – most arthritis sufferers are deficient in various vitamins and minerals and taking a multivitamin/mineral supplement helps to redress this.

**Check the sources of these supplements – I tend to avoid anything from ‘bovine’ sources. Also you need to look for shellfish if you are allergic to it.

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Self-help tips

These may sound crazy but they are old wives’ tales that might help:

• Cider vinegar and honey – one teaspoon of each in warm water every morning
• Epsom salts in the bath to soothe aching joints
• Cabbage juice, cabbage water or cabbage leaves as a poultice on painful areas

You can get help from:


One of the best ways to prevent arthritis is to do regular exercise to remain very mobile. Just half an hour a day is adequate and walking is excellent, so if it means the difference between taking the car and walking somewhere it benefits your health as well as the environment!

Being overweight doesn’t help with arthritis because there is more pressure on joints so exercise can help to keep weight down as well as keeping you mobile. Recommended exercise includes:

• Swimming
• Dancing – Indian dancing helps to keep fingers mobile
• Cycling
• Walking
• Yoga – great for stretching
• Pilates – also excellent for keeping mobile
• T’ai chi and chi kung – wonderful for mobility and to relax you

It may be a dying art but knitting is good for the fingers as it encourages them to move quickly and exercise. The same could be true of using a keyboard but sadly it seems to cause more problems than it solves such as RSI, back pain and stiffness!


Magnets: some people swear by magnetic bracelets or pads to alleviate arthritis, and others wear them simply to keep it away.

Alexander Technique: it can’t take away arthritis but by learning to minimise tension in the body there is usually a resulting reduction in pain. Contact STAT (Society for Teachers of the Alexander Technique), 020 7482 5135 See Therapies/Alexander Technique.

Herbal medicine: The safest bet is to visit a qualified medical herbalist who can ensure that no herbs administered will contra-indicate medication. They can also prescribe creams and ointments to ease areas of discomfort. To find a medical herbalist contact the National Institute for Medical Herbalists, NIMH, 01392 426022, Therapies/Herbal Medicine

Acupuncture: Relieves pain, reduces swelling and inflammation. To find a local acupuncturist contact the British Acupuncture Council is on: 0208 735 0400 See Therapies/Acupuncture


Under pressure – computer hands

How much pressure are your hands under

  • 40 words a minute
    12,000 keys per hour
    96,000 keys per eight hour day
  • 8 ounces of force per key
    16-25 tons of force each day

One of the biggest causes of back pain is the use of computers and keyboards, and the above infographic shows you how much pressure your hands are under.  Sitting at a desk all day long, tapping on the keyboard and peering at a screen is not what our bodies were designed to do. As a result we can get tight and painful shoulders, RSI in the hand and wrist, carpal tunnel syndrome, and even arthritis in the hands.

The cost of RSIOne of the main problems is the way that people lean in to their screen to look at or read what’s on there, rounding the shoulders and putting pressure on the back. The best position is upright on a good chair that supports your back, with feet flat on the floor, and preferably the keyboard or laptop on a desk in front of you, not on your lap. It was designed for your lap, but your body wasn’t designed to cope with it!

Plenty of offices now provide standing desks, that can be at the right height for sitting, or enable you to have a choice of standing while you work, which is surprisingly good for your back and posture.

The Alexander Technique is a good discipline for understanding and being aware of how you put pressure on your back. A good teacher can work with you to show you how you are causing unnecessary strain.

Penclic Infographic-stereo typingAlso, you can try ergonomic products, such as a Back Friend on your chair which enables your back to be correctly positioned.

Or Penclic’s Mini Keyboard, either wireless or connected, which is said to prevent RSI. It’s small and can be easily moved around the desk to ensure that hands and wrists are more comfortable, and what’s a big boon is that the keys are light to touch so you don’t find yourself bashing down on them and putting pressure on fingers.


The power of oxygen to heal

Inside the hyperbaric oxygen chamber at A Breath for Life.

There are so many chronic conditions that can be improved by extra oxygen in a hyperbaric chamber, which enables people to breathe in oxygen at greater than atmospheric pressure (the same oxygen with nothing added).

Brain injuries, including cerebral palsy are notoriously difficult conditions to manage successfully. HBOT is not a cure but can improve predicted outcomes. By oxygenating brain tissue, new capillary growth is encouraged, brain synapses are re-connected and swelling reduced.

A Breath for Life is a registered charity providing hyperbaric oxygen treatment (HBOT) to both children and adults. Hyperbaric chambers have been used for many years in the offshore diving industry.  See the video. 

Professor Philip James of Dundee University and A Breath for Life Honorary Medical Advisor said ‘Giving more oxygen is not alternative medicine, it is sound science and common sense. There is no substitute for oxygen’.

Breathing oxygen under pressure allows all body cells to be bathed in oxygen. As oxygen is a primary healer, tissue is given the best environment in which to heal. HBOT has been a neglected modality for too long. It is a false hope to believe that drugs will cure when tissues lack oxygen. Most diseases and injuries suffer from a lack of oxygen but there has been little or no understanding by medical personnel of the healing power of breathing oxygen under pressure.

Treatment has four main functions:-

1. Makes blood oxygen rich — infusing the plasma as well as the red blood cells with oxygen.
2. Reduces swelling and inflammation.
3. Eliminates infection.
4. Encourages the growth and production of stem cells.

A Breath for Life was established in 1998 primarily to treat children suffering from cerebral palsy and the charity has witnessed some incredible responses to treatment during that time. We soon became aware of the healing power of oxygen and as a result opened our doors to adults suffering from multiple sclerosis, stroke, Parkinson’s Disease, early Alzheimer’s Disease, Lyme Disease and all manner of sporting injuries, and following research involving autistic children we have seen more of them recently.

We do not claim that HBOT will cure all illness but will aid recovery. Where we do have considerable success is treating chronic infections as oxygen acts as an anti-microbial. The polymicrobial nature of diabetic leg ulcers make orthodox treatments difficult and often unsuccessful. After a course of HBOT, infections are cleared, tissue begins to granulate and healing occurs.

So why is HBOT not more widely used? Part of the problem is lack of education in medical schools. The National Institute of Clinical Excellence ( NICE) only recommend HBOT for a limited number of conditions, primarily decompression sickness and carbon monoxide poisoning. As a result fundholding GPs are reluctant to prescribe a course of HBOT for their patients and in addition there are only a few chambers in the country designated for clinical use.

Consequently, most of our patients self-refer after doing their own research. A Breath for Life patients are asked to donate a minimum of £20 per treatment for adults and £10 for children, to cover ongoing costs. However,we would never turn away a child in need.

Antibiotic resistance is reaching crisis point and Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer, has predicted a return to widespread sepsis as experienced before the introduction of penicillin, maybe we will see a greater interest in HBOT. Once a chamber is established, HBOT is the safest, most cost efficient treatment available to the NHS and has no side effects.

For more information contact: Jane Dean ( Hon.Chairman), A Breath for Life,, 01524 855422. Email:

You tube:- A Breath for Life VIDEO.

Tax sugary drinks?

sugar Recommendations to put an extra 20 per cent tax on sugary drink to prevent people becoming obese were put forward by the BMA (British Medical Association) recently. But will anything change? Recommendations come out all the time but do they get taken up. The BMA claims that poor diets cost 70,000 premature deaths a year.

The BMA suggests an extra tax of 20 per cent on unhealthy food and drinks. A 330ml fizzy drink is likely to contain up to nine teaspoonfuls of sugar. Apparently a sugar tax on drinks in Mexico has resulted in lower consumption. The overall aim is to reduce the number of people becoming obese and getting diabetes, which are both attributed to the increase in sugar consumption, which is highest in the 11 to 18 year old group. They take 15.6 per cent of their energy from sugar, when the limit for everyone should be 5 per cent.

There should be restrictions on promoting unhealthy foods to children through advertising and fun characters. Instead they suggest that there should be marketing campaigns to promote awareness and the importance of healthy foods. Other suggestions are for school meals to include a free fruit and vegetable scheme, and for the price of fruit and vegetables to be subsidised.

How many times have you visited a hospital and found the full range of fizzy drinks, crisps, sweets and chocolate on sale in the shop? The recommendations suggest banning these sales, and having a traffic light coding on food.
Other recommendations include:
• No trans fats in food allowed.
• Compulsory reduction of salt levels in food and drink products.
• Targets to reduce calories, fat, saturated fat and added sugar levels in a range of soft drinks, confectionery, biscuits, and many other processed foods.

Needless to say this needs international co-operation.
Dire warnings from the British Medical Association include the spectre of 30 per cent of the UK population being obese by 2030.

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