Rethink Health - May 2010

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For much of this month we have been under a cloud: a cloud of ash erupting from a volcano in Iceland. It has grounded air passengers and the Royal Air Force for the best part of a week, my own aircraft among them. Many holiday-makers had to make their way home by surface means, taking several days longer to reach these shores.  Many more have cancelled departures and been offered alternatives some weeks away. 

The skies over London and the Midlands have been clear and quiet, free of vapour trails and the roars behind them. Birdsong has been audible in Battersea - alas no nightingales in Mayfair.

This sort of incident should remind us, I hope, that international tourism is still an uncertain adventure, by no means a right. Cheap fares have trivialised the experience. Taking alternatives must have been refreshing for the confirmed air passenger, once more connected to the landscape through which they were travelling (yes, really travelling) and able to appreciate the journey in a very old-fashioned way. This is grounding in a different and more wholesome sense. Let's hope more will in future consider holidays that do not involve flying.

It may also be a glimpse ahead at permanent economies to come.  I cannot see how we can expect air travel to continue growing. To see how crowded the skies already are, look up - a fascinating satellite view of all the aircraft in the air, in real time. There are thousands over Europe alone.

I hope the episode - by no means over yet - has loosened a little our attachment to flying. This comes oddly from a doctor who looks after pilots, and flies himself: I hope it, nevertheless.

An aside, from a query put to me last week. It's fine for the ash to descend on your garden and your plants. It's probably the best mineral fertilizer you could get, direct from the earth's mantle and powdered very fine. This will not only be assimilated into the soil very readily but will stimulate fungal and bacterial action into the bargain. Sadly, it does not look as though we can expect very much of a dusting - the cloud is very thin. The vivid sunsets of Mount St Helens have been lacking this time.


I was taken mildly to task for my piece last time on work and parenthood. I did not mean mothers should stay at home, only that both parents should be very careful whom they allow to deputise for them: semi-detachment during nursery years is very hard to make up for. I do maintain that infants need their mothers, by definition. So plan for six months' full-time parenthood from the baby's birthday. It's probably the hardest work you'll ever do, but much the most fruitful.

Breakfast Like a King

American scientists have evidence from rats that a hearty breakfast including fat raises metabolic rate for the day, making you burn off the calories. (I say it switches off any impression your body had that you were hibernating, but that's another story.) And if the fat does not come with starch in any form, such a breakfast cannot put weight on you.

But combined in junk food (refined and manufactured) you may become addicted, according to the results of feeding another set of rats that way. (You wouldn't want to be born a rat, would you!)

Stick to food as in nature, fresh and unadulterated. Despite a bad press recently, plentiful fresh fruit and vegetables later in the day are also good for you - don't stick at five a day.

Breast Cancer Test

I don't normally trumpet new technology but a test capable of detecting breast cancer the size of a seed, may be available in a few years; it's up to NICE now. Look out for the Diagenic BCtect test, done on blood. It's a bit like the PSA test for prostate disease, and may have similar snags.

I think the key to preventing both diseases is to be wary of hormone-like substances in food (mainly cow produce, dairy and beef) and redress the oestrogen overload, usually with progesterone.  To clear up mischief of all kinds as it occurs, any amount of anti-oxidants in your food also helps - you can't have enough of these vividly-coloured substances (fruit and veg again). They are known to deter cancer in at least some situations, so long as you eat them in the form of legitimate food (not chemically pure supplements).

Not Dead Yet

Some of you wrote most touchingly in response to my announcement last time, evidently under the impression that this newsletter would stop along with the website. Not the case, as you see - I must have expressed myself poorly. Moreover I notice the website is still up and running, presumably into injury time.

For the sake of clarity, it is also still OK to phone, write or e-mail me for advice. I don't guarantee to be always available, but I will respond when I can. 

Let's hope the fallout from events on 6th May makes the NHS work better, so that it leaves you loose ends less often.