Category Archives: Health Matters

Be well, stay well

Get it on, bang a gong…

Christmas. You love Christmas. Family you haven’t seen since… oh, blimey, do you remember that time? It’s fine. It’ll be different this year. It’s cool. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’ll be lovely. Probably. Or it could be like the script EastEnders rejected because it was too scary. Do you remember that time?? Blimey. Who’s coming round? So… he’s vegan and she eats anything as long as it’s high welfare? Are you sure it’s that way round?

Forget all that for a minute. De-stress. Relax. Have you ever had a sound bath?

A sound bath is – and I found this quote on the internet so it must be true – a way of managing anxiety, soothing the nervous system, and blocking all the ideas and thoughts out of your consciousness as you connect with your body. Actually, I’ve had one before and it’s blimmin lovely.

Actually it really is lovely. And if you’re struggling to think of what to get your loved one as a present… read on.

Naomi Potter and Emma Thomas run sound baths in St Michael & All Angels Church in Powis Rd, and if all this Christmas stuff is feeling a bit too much, you could do far worse. “What better way to start the New Year and beat the January blues than by focusing on your health and wellbeing” said Naomi.

Emma takes up the theme. “Melt away and relax with this soothing and restorative sound journey, designed to reset your nervous system and create inner calm. Our uplifting weekly sound journeys, which will include gongs, Tibetan bowls and soothing percussion instruments will create a sense of stillness, grounding and inner peace. Lay down, relax and allow yourself the opportunity to access a state of deep rest.

“Regular sound journeys are powerful healing tools. They are well-known to support relaxation, ease pain, anxiety and muscle tension, and promote better sleep. Concentration and energy levels may improve as a result of regular relaxation with sound”.

Naomi and Emma are donating 15% of any profits from this sound journey series to the Free Tibet campaign which campaigns to protect the human rights of Tibetans.

If this sounds cool – and if it doesn’t… are you OK? – bear in mind that their previous Solstice event sold out quickly so get in quick and make sure you reserve your spot.

Get your tickets here:

Also, next year on January 14th, there’s a harp special with a guest harpist, and that sounds kinda nice too.

How To Have A Mindful Xmas by Jo Rowkins

There’s the Bailey’s. That tub of Quality Street. And the Christmas pud always seems a good idea – until just after you’ve eaten it. How can you avoid that “uurrgghh” when your “Oh, just one more” urge is bigger than your mince pies.

There’s a Christmas song we’ve been practicing recently in The Dulcetones, a fabulous choir I sing in, called “Let’s Make Christmas Mean Something This Year.” I’ve been reflecting on those lyrics. But amid the stress and overwhelm of it all, too often the Christmas reality for many is one of over-indulgence, family tension and feeling wiped out come the new year. So how can we make Christmas mean something this year? One word: mindfulness!

Christmas doesn’t have to be stressful. It can be a time of gratitude and nourishment, and a wonderful exercise in mindfulness. Nurturing yourself and your loved ones at the end of another year, can be an opportunity for relaxation and renewal. Christmas is the stepping stone from one year to the next, so a very powerful time indeed. So, bearing that in mind, here are 11 Ways To A Mindful Christmas:

1. Pamper yourself and your loved ones. Christmas should feel like it’s everyone’s birthday. Make it special by being truly present as you take yourself through each moment of the day.

2. Eat a protein-rich breakfast. I adore wild smoked salmon, spinach and organic eggs alongside my glass of Christmas breakfast champagne. The protein regulates your appetite and reduces the temptation to eat all the chocs and sugary treats on offer! Balanced blood sugar equals balanced energy levels, allowing you to stay fresh and avoid mood swings.

3. Choose quality over quantity. Luxuriate in the decadence of this time of year. Choose wisely, slow down and enjoy every mouthful! Make your food a sensual delight. 

4. Eat the rainbow. Christmas dinner is the ideal opportunity to load your plate with colourful veg. Cruciferous ones like Brussel’s sprouts, broccoli and red cabbage are packed with indole-3-carbinol to help your liver process the extra booze (and they support your hormones too). 

5. Make cooking an act of ritual. Slowing down and being mindful when shopping, prepping and cooking food can make it a sacred act. Notice the colourful vegetables, the smell and the textures. Feel honoured to be able to cook a nourishing meal for yourself and your loved ones, instead of it feeling like a chore.

6. Be mindful of your food intake. Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean you have to eat until you’re stuffed. Eat mindfully, chew slowly and give each bite the attention it deserves. Notice the tastes, textures and smells. 

7. Receiving and giving is an experience of abundance and gratitude. Slow down and appreciate what’s happening. Give from your heart when you give, and truly receive and appreciate the gifts you are given.

8. Watch your ego! Family can churn up old patterns, judgments and behaviours that no longer serve us, or are real. Breathe, connect and observe fully. Sometimes negative reactions are our own, sometimes from another family member. Stay true to yourself without the need to react. Breathe deeply, don’t get sucked into old family dramas (this one is easier said than done…sometimes another Campari is actually what’s needed in these situations!!). Choose happiness over being right!

9. Play and have fun. We’re often feeling stressed and overwhelmed due to society’s pressures. Laughter and silliness are the best medicine. Be silly, tell jokes, wear the Christmas jumper, do jigsaw puzzles, play Charades… it’s a time to let your hair down.

10. Drink mindfully. Be sure to sip water regularly as well as selecting healthier options such as red wine, dry white, and Champagne. Drink your vodka or gin with soda water and a squeeze of fresh lemon instead of sugary mixers. 

11. Supplement to support your body. I favour milk thistle and B vitamins to support liver function when drinking excess alcohol, and vitamin C to boost immunity. A quality digestive enzyme is a perfect natural remedy, and you can’t beat mighty magnesium to calm your nerves and help you relax. An Epsom salt bath in the morning will set you up for a relaxing and nurturing Christmas day ahead.

Switching off autopilot is one of the best things you can do. On autopilot you act without thinking, feeling or noticing, and miss all the magic of life happening around you. So, embrace the sensual pleasures and decadence of Christmas day with intention. Being mindful is a great gift to yourself and others and the way to make Christmas mean something this year. 

I wish you a wonderfully mindful, nurturing and healthy Christmas, and a fabulous year ahead full of wellness and self-care.

Jo Rowkins, Nutritional Therapist & Lifestyle Coach at Awakening Health.

Why we really should wear masks

By Andrew Polmear, our intrepid wine and cheese man – it’s OK kids, he’s a retired doctor

Most of us are pretty good at wearing a mask in a public place, possibly because we’d get thrown out if we don’t. But have a look round on a bus or train and you’ll often see someone whose mask is useless – either below the nose or even round the chin. There are people, of course, who are exempt, but they wouldn’t be wearing one at all. Does it matter? How good is the evidence that wearing a mask saves lives?

Comparing different countries. The first sort of evidence is from countries where almost everybody wears a mask when they leave home. One careful study showed that transmission of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) is 7.5 times higher in countries where mask wearing is not universal compared to those where it is. That’s not proof, of course – the difference may have been due to something else; they may also have been hand-washing, or distancing, or just not shaking hands, for example. But the masks probably help. A study of US states found that states in which mask-wearing was compulsory had slower disease growth rates than states where it wasn’t.

Studies that asked contacts of coronavirus cases whether they wore a mask or not, then checking whether or not they caught the disease. It’s not a reliable technique – it all depends on people’s memory and honesty. Roughly, wearing a mask seemed to result in half the risk of catching coronoavirus disease. But almost all of these cases were SARS or MERS, not Covid-19.

Lab studies. The final sort of study is done in a laboratory where they measure particles the size of the water particles that carry coronavirus. Researchers have looked at the different situations that arise. I’ll focus on where the contagious person is coughing:

  • The person coughing is masked: a mask roughly halves the number of particles getting out. (Warning – different studies come up with different figures, according to what size particles were measured and how far away from the person being tested.) A 3-layer homemade cloth mask does as well as a surgical mask. An N95 mask may do a bit better but it’s quite a bit more expensive. Whether it fits properly may be more important than what it’s made of.
  • The person with the mask is in the same room as the person coughing (who is not masked): there is benefit but it’s much less.
  • If both are masked the benefit is much greater at about 80%. But what really makes a difference is if both wear double masks – that is, a surgical mask with a fabric mask over the top. That reduces particle transmission by 95%. It may be that the double masking works more by ensuring a close fit, than by the ability of the extra mask to filter more particles. Try it, it’s quite comfortable!

Where should we wear those masks? Obviously in public enclosed spaces. Keeping 2 metres apart isn’t enough. Those masking studies I mention above were done 6 feet apart. I think masks should also be worn out of doors. If there are no crowds and a good breeze you would probably be all right, but you can never protect yourself against the panting jogger who pushes past you, or against bumping into someone as you round a blind corner. If you can smell the cigarette smoke of a smoker you are inhaling their breath.

Finally, what about in the home if a family member becomes ill or is a contact. There’s just one study on this, from Beijing. Transmission of Covid-19 was reduced by 79% if everyone in the household was masked. But there’s a catch. Masking has to be all the time, including before the person who becomes ill develops symptoms. That’s partly why Covid-19 is such a problem. The time when a person is most contagious is from 2 days before symptoms begin until 1 day after they start. If the person you live with is a contact you have time – mask up straight away, don’t wait for them to become ill. If they develop symptoms out of the blue you’ve probably missed the boat, but mask up anyway.

PS. You may be wondering whether higher quality masks would do better than the fabric and surgical masks described above. After all, an FFP2 mask is, by EU definition, one that filters out 94% or more particles (roughly the same as an N95 mask (the US equivalent) and a KN95 (the Chinese equivalent)). An FFP3 mask filters out 98% or more particles. The answer is no, not necessarily. They were designed for industrial use, not specifically for viral protection. Also, those EU tests do not attempt to mimic the human situation, with one person coughing, or talking, or even just breathing out, and another person breathing in. They may still be better than fabric or ordinary surgical masks, especially if properly fitted, but don’t expect 94% or 98% reduction in transmission. And, of course, don’t wear a mask with a valve in it – that would allow out any virus you are exhaling.

PPS. Those who wear glasses find masks a problem. Their moist breath fogs up the inside of the lenses. From all the people who have commented on this it is clear there’s only one solution: wear the mask high up on your nose and perch the glasses on top of it. One eye surgeon, who needs to wear glasses while operating, tapes the top of his mask to his nose, so it can’t slip down below his glasses.

This is an area of science where new information is coming out every day. By the time this article is published it may already be out of date. And please bear in mind that it is the opinion of one retired GP, not a leading scientist. Andrew regrets that he cannot enter into correspondence with individual readers.

What’s Going On?

In the second of Andrew Polmear’s Covid reports, he looks at the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine and the over 65s.

A friend has just emailed to say that she’s delighted that she’s had her first Covid vaccination – but disappointed that it was the Oxford/AstraZeneca version. She’s in her 70s and I guess she’s heard that a number of European countries will not be using the Oxford/AZ vaccine in people over 65. Indeed, President Macron of France has been the most outspoken, saying that “it’s quasi-ineffective in the over 65s” Yet our own Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, and the EU equivalent, have approved its use in all adults. So what’s going on?

The problem is that the Oxford study began with patients under 55 years old. They wanted to prove that it was safe in younger patients before giving it to the elderly. Once it was clear that it was safe they included adults of all ages. But when they reported their first results only 2 patients over 65 had the disease. Neither had been given the vaccine but the numbers were too small to say that that proved that the vaccine worked in the older patient. They could, however, say that President Macron was wrong to say it didn’t work. All that can be said is that they hadn’t proved it did work.

So why has the Oxford/AZ vaccine been approved for all ages? There are two reasons:

  1. The researchers measured the antibodies in the blood following administration of the vaccine. Subjects over 65 had a strong immune response, as measured in the lab. It was not quite as strong as in younger subjects but it was plenty strong enough.
  2. All other studies so far reported have shown that older people are protected by the other vaccines. Especially reassuring is the vaccine made by J&J which uses the same technology as the Oxford/AZ vaccine. It would be very odd if the Oxford/AZ vaccine didn’t behave in the same way.

My belief is that, like President Macron, politicians in those countries have confused ‘no evidence of benefit’ with ‘evidence of no benefit’. If the Oxford/AZ vaccine isn’t shown to be effective at all ages in the next few weeks, I’ll eat my hat.

This is an area of science where new information is coming out every day. By the time this article is published it may already be out of date. And please bear in mind that it is the opinion of one retired GP, not a leading scientist. Andrew regrets that he cannot enter into correspondence with individual readers.

Covid-19 and vaccines – a (retired) doctor writes…

Not only is Andrew Polmear our intrepid wine and cheese man, he’s also a retired doctor and asks… Does delaying the second dose till 12 weeks after the first put us at risk?

One of the joys of being a retired doctor is having the satisfaction of responding to people’s concerns about medical matters without the worry of being responsible for them. So I enjoy queries from friends; and of all the questions I’ve been asked about Covid-19, the commonest is about the 12 week delay between jabs. Is it safe?

The short answer is yes, but, of course, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

The first bit of the answer is the straightforward one that Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, gave when he announced the change. If you have a vaccine that’s in short supply it’s better to give everyone at risk a first dose rather than give some a second dose and others nothing at this stage. The first dose gives a better “bang for your buck”. That means Matt Hancock made the right choice for the country; but it doesn’t stop us, as individuals, wanting that second dose.

But does delaying that second dose reduce our protection?

Things are easiest to understand with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, because there’s published information about this. The Oxford researchers had intended to test a single dose. But after they’d started the trials they found that, when they gave a second jab to a small group, they got a better antibody response. They went back to the regulator and got permission to change the trial, so they could give a second jab 28 days after the first. However, by the time they gave their subjects the second dose, some were at least 90 days after the first. So they could compare the effect of early and late second jabs:

  • second dose given early (between 22 and 90 days after the first) – 76% of cases of Covid were prevented, with no sign that protection was tailing off towards the end (and none of those who did get Covid were bad enough to go to hospital).
  • second dose given late (more than 90 days) – 82% protection. What’s more, subjects had higher antibody levels than those who had an earlier second dose.

So, with the Oxford/AZ vaccine, we can say that a 90 day gap is fine, possibly even better than a 28 day gap.

With the Pfizer vaccine it’s more difficult because all of those taking part in the trial got the second dose at between 19 and 42 days after the first. So Pfizer are correct to say that there’s no evidence that delaying the second dose until 90 days is safe. The World Health Organisation hedges its bets by recommending that the gap go up to 6 weeks. So why does our own, highly regarded, Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation recommend 3 months? There are two reasons:

  • The first is that most, possibly all, vaccines give better long-term immunity if the second dose is delayed. The HPV vaccine, for instance, given to girls and boys to protect against certain types of cancer, works best if the second dose is given between 6 months and two years after the first. Immunity from vaccination doesn’t fall off rapidly. It takes 2 – 3 weeks after a jab to develop. It doesn’t then suddenly disappear, at least not for months or years.
  • The second reason is a detailed look at the Pfizer trial. Patients in the week before the second jab were 89% protected against Covid-19. After the second jab they were 95% protected. Such a small improvement in protection from an early second dose isn’t statistically significant.

 So, the chances are that a delay in receiving a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine will do no harm. And it’ll certainly mean that more people will get their first jab sooner; which is good for everybody.

This is an area of science where new information is coming out every day. By the time this article is published it may already be out of date. And please bear in mind that it is the opinion of one retired GP, not a leading scientist. Andrew regrets that he cannot enter into correspondence with individual readers.