Rethink Health - October 2010

News through the GoodHealthKeeping lens

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Clear and Present Danger

I have been fascinated by stories of RAF veterans, their fallen comrades, women ferry pilots and ground engineers, ARP wardens and blitz survivors; told by many televised films and air displays, marking the 70th summer since the Battle of Britain. It is all very near our own time, and yet a world away. 

None of us, or them, would wish to find ourselves again in such a situation. But they faced no great dilemma. Their families were under imminent threat and they had to do something about it. Most volunteered. They faced life-and-death challenges several times daily, to the point of exhaustion. 

A majority (to my surprise) survived the armistice. Very few made anything afterwards about their war. Few parents told their children. They settled back into civilian life, usually jobs like the ones they had left to join the war.

I am struck now, as Kurt Hahn was then, by the great stature and self-possession those veterans acquired. It marked them for life, but they are thinning out. How do any of us youngsters acquire it now?

Hahn trained German U-boat officers during both wars, but "refused to organise a war in every generation to save the young from a depressing peace". Instead he founded Gordonstoun, and the Outward Bound Movement. He put youngsters into real danger, making them rely on their wits and each other to survive the challenge. The minority who joined Outward Bound or the Scout Movement stood out, head and shoulders above those who didn't. 

Far fewer of us now get even close to danger, let alone tackle it. Adventure training is in decline. We have been lulled by prosperity and peace into an illusion of permanence and safety. Death is an affront to be prevented at all costs. The "health and safety" culture makes us more careful of ourselves than of our friends and neighbours. 

I have done my share of adventure training, and faced mortal danger once or twice. It showed me there was nothing to fear. I confess I even revelled in coping with it. We are all built to cope with danger, but we do need practice. Otherwise we fall to pieces in a crisis, and plead trauma ever after.

Gareth Moran has been helping bored primary schoolboys. In eight adventurous weeks their literacy jumped 6 months, because they could at last see the point of it. We all need so badly to live life in vivid tones. I don't know how, in peacetime, we are going to give this back to everyone else.

Beware Bisphosphonates

It was only a matter of time. Whatever is wrong that lets bones soften, no pharmaceutical is likely to put it right.

Bisphosphonates are a class of chemicals used to deter osteoporosis. They are offered to many people who do not yet have a problem, but are considered at risk for it. 

Now we learn that regular consumption of these pills increases the risk of cancer of the gullet by about a third.

This cancer is not common, so the real risk is small. But what point is there in swapping one hazard for another?

The nearest we can get to explaining osteoporosis is some combination of oestrogen dominance and over-reliance on dairy produce. Both are easily and safely corrected. The former requires medication with progesterone, which is available but not well known by most NHS doctors. That should not deter you from asking, should the need arise. We too have more information.

The problems with dairy items are the hormones they contain from the over-bred cattle that produce it, and their net acidity. Despite the calcium milk contains, more calcium dissolves from bones (we are told) to neutralise the acidity. This is contentious, but credible. 

The other factor is activity and exercise. Do not live in fear of osteoporosis, but in spite of it. Action creates an appetite for bone, so you build more.

Finally, remember no single bone scan can demonstrate thinning of bone, in the absence of relevant symptoms. You need to see deterioration between two scans, some months or years apart.

B is for Alzheimer's Dementia

Nobody yet knows what underlies the brain-wasting diseases. Meanwhile, there are two candidates worth serious attention. One is poisoning with accumulative toxins such as pesticides, mercury, lead, aluminium and arsenic. The other is mediocre food, failing to maintain the brain in good repair into advanced old age.

Significant levels of heavy metal contamination are not uncommon. Hair mineral analysis has revealed several to me this year who are benefiting from gentle removal by nutritional chelation - swapping harmless selenium for the metal, so that it can be voided in urine. You don't need tablets: a handful daily of brazil nuts provides more than enough.

Food quality is a perennial issue, most commonly regarding minerals,  plus essential fatty acids and vitamins B and C which are easy casualties of stale food kept too long. It pays to emphasise oily seeds and fish, and supplement minerals, in any case. If you seldom dream, then extra vitamin B is called for (insufficient B6 disrupts recall of having dreamt).

Recent research shows much slower shrinkage of brains already damaged,  from megadoses of several vitamin B fractions. Why wait until then? An ample daily sufficiency of vitamin B complex with breakfast cannot hurt you, and ought to help prevent decline in the first place. If your dreams get too vivid, simply ease off. B taken at night will keep you awake, so beware!