Rethink Health - June 2011

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"Be Very Afraid"

I know how often I return to this topic, but so many silly messages have circulated in the past month that I have to comment.

The first shock-horror was E Coli deaths in Germany. The Spanish salad industry was blamed, stupidly and unfairly, and disgraceful quantities of perfectly good produce were returned to compost before the true culprit - a bean sprout producer in Germany itself - was identified. Then there was "diarrhoea", against which the great and good propose to vaccine the children of the developing world, magically saving 4 Million lives. As backdrop to all of this we had yet another push for MMR vaccination, inspired by the few hundred more cases that have been recorded in the past year.

E Coli is a germ capable of many lives, that we all host in our intestines. Normally it lives on vegetation and can be classed with the acidophilus species that make and tolerate acid in the bowel, providing the favourable climate for that part of the gut. However if meat fibres are available regularly in the food passing through, E Coli can begin to live off this and produce ammonia rather than acid, disrupting the favourable climate and letting in mischief of all kinds - fungus growth being one. So long as there are gaps in the supply of meat fibres, this does not happen. Many people will have eaten contaminated sprouts without harm - the mainly-vegetarian ones. The moral is clear.

I remember commenting before on vaccinations against diarrhoea. There are far too many causes for vaccination to stand any chance! Provision of clean drinking water and separation from sewage are the key to success, and the only plan worth any investment.

On MMR I will just remind you that none of these diseases is inherently lethal. MMR may be, because of the unnatural challenge and dubious result it gives. Some of the resurgent cases of measles will represent faulty immunisation in children who have only had MMR. People we have vaccinated with two single products are fine to accept MMR whenever they need mumps protection, and to use it for any boosters thereafter. That's at 9 for girls, and 10 for boys.

I fume at the lack of imagination of public health officials - why would Spainish vegetables affect only Germans?! - and their craven subservience to marketing messages from drug companies. It says little for Cameron and Gates that they listen to these people so uncritically. Journalists and the media are even worse. But you don't need to follow their example. You are still in charge of your own and your families' lives.

Weakling Children

A recent study of Essex children compared their physical prowess with similar children 10 years ago. In 1998, 5% of children could not support their weight, dangling from a bar. Ten years later 10% refused even to try, and 10% of those who tried could not do it.

We learned a vivid lesson when our very lean 10-year-old daughter got the hockey bug, and transformed herself within five years into a well proportioned, muscular young woman. We learned the true meaning of Physical Education. Army PT instructors also have the message. They leave an indelible mark of cardiac training on every recruit, still detectable 30 years later.

Screens are clearly bad for you. But taking only virtual action is just part of the problem. More deep-seated is the "right" children are now granted to say no. No school in the 50s would let a pupil off games and PE provided they had two legs and could see. Now they are cowed by Health and Safety issues. The real threat to health and safety is incompetence and lack of situational awareness based on  insufficient drive, challenge and experience. These need to be reasserted, without the option. Bring back Outward Bound, all is forgiven!

Clever Musicians

How gratifying! I started aged about 10 to learn the piano for several years at my parents' expense, then resumed at my own from age 18 for several years more. I resumed lessons just recently, aged 68. Somewhere in between I have managed to exceed grade 8 in practice, and am encouraged to backtrack over the theory.

It turns out such a background improves the intellectual accomplishment of the musician, whatever their education. In particular, pensioners like me with this background, do better in intelligence tests. 

I sometimes regret the piano, because so few pianists are required to perform. Voice, violin or guitar is probably best, if the sponsor can cope with the student's early efforts. But music adds a major dimension to your life, and performing it personally is extraordinarily empowering.

One of my co-pupils, aged 6, blossoms into someone greater when she sings. If it keeps her more poised, smarter and listening and breathing better into her dotage, all the better. Instrumental music additionally develops and helps preserve manual strength and dexterity.

So encourage your children to explore music - even if you have no background in it yourself. They'll need a bit more than they get at school. And it's really true - all those scales and exercises are worth the frequent repetitions and regular practice!

Price Rises

We have been supplying private prescriptions and other important supplies by post since I retired. I don't think we have reviewed prices for at least 5 years. Well, now we have. 

We ought to increase everything by 20% to cover cost rises in the interval. Instead we will raise them about 10% on 1st July, and another 10% on 1st April next year.

Thyroid costs may vary more often than this if the value of the dollar strengthens again, because we buy it in the USA. But at the moment the dollar is weak.