Rethink Health - February 2012

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Coping With The Cold

As I speak, much of the British Isles are covered with snow. This is after all the season for it. Instead of the prolonged freeze of last winter we in the Midlands have so far one fall of about 10 cm and a fairly rapid thaw, with 4-5 degrees of frost, mainly at night.

This is not so much of a big deal, but was quite enough to launch the chattering classes into talk of the hypothermic elderly. As one of several elderly people in our street who have been shovelling snow this week, I fail to recognise the relevance of much that they said.

There are two basic modes of response to almost anything in life: active, and passive. Cold weather definitely calls for an active approach. 

It was never about the cost of energy. The energy that matters is what you release in your body from food you have eaten. The food needs to be sufficient and appropriate, containing at least some fat. Even frying is OK if you use olive or sunflower oil. Starch alone won't last long enough. You need this hearty meal before your routine activity begins. That will usual be early in the day, as breakfast. But shift workers will need their "breakfast" before their main work begins.

I once made the mistake of climbing a hill in Scotland at dawn, on just a cup of coffee. By the time I reached the moor above the tree-line, I was clearly hypoglycaemic - stupid, weak and thirsty. I never made that mistake again.

Your digestion and metabolism need to be brisk and efficient. If you always feel colder than other people and are not on beta-blocker medicines or a severe diet, maybe your body thinks you want to hibernate and is deliberately - but mistakenly - running slow. Your temperature on waking is the clue. You have to switch off that impression by vigorous activity and a good breakfast. Watch that temperature rise!

Once you have produced heat, you need to keep it inside your body with sufficient clothing, and inside your home with good thermal and draft insulation. If your home is as well insulated as it now can be, simply having a few active people in residence will keep it warm enough without additional heating.

Your bedding also needs to be thermally efficient. It should not be necessary to run an electric blanket or heat the room, though a hot water bottle may sometimes help to begin the night. I sometimes pop one up my jumper in the evening, too, if I'm sitting still for long enough to cool off.

As for the great outdoors, go for it. Cover your head and hands, however much hair you have left. There are snow-spikes available now to attach to your wellies or walking shoes, if the going is icy. The sight of fresh snow is delightful, the community bonding it fosters is not to be missed. No child should miss out on grannie's experience in rolling balls for snowmen. Or, for that matter, aiming them! The week's sledding and ski-ing on the slopes of our local park was always one of the seasonal highlights of Louth life. I hope Health and Safety has not managed to spoil it.

Aspirin Is Out. . .

It never made sense, and now researchers at St Georges University Hospital have cast official doubts on the wisdom of taking 75 milligrams daily of aspirin to ward off heart attacks and strokes. It does reduce that risk by about 10%, but also increases the risk of significant internal bleeding by 3 times that much. That excludes surface bleeding and bruising the researchers regarded as trivial, but which is a serious nuisance. 

In other words, unless you have a much higher coronary risk than most, aspirin does more harm than good. 

. . . but Nuts Are In

A small handful daily of almost any genuine nuts is a valuable contribution to your diet. We go easy because of the calories, but Dr Joe Vinson in the USA has just reminded us what we are missing - minerals, anti-oxidants and essential fatty acids. 

The key is in their function, as concentrated essential rations for the next generation of trees. The trees they hang from are sprayed rather than the soil around them, which means fewer pesticides reach the soil to kill the germs that convey minerals to the roots of the trees. Most field crops are seriously starved of minerals, making our usual diets 30-40% deficient. 

Meanwhile the kernels are shielded by dense shells, so that sprays do not reach them.

Be wary of too many Brazil nuts, which are loaded with selenium and radioactive. 4-5 daily is plenty. 

And none of this applied to peanuts, which are more pea than nut.

Success!

Better food and less smoking is finally having an effect. Fewer middle aged people are dying of heart attacks - half as many in the past ten years as formerly. 

But younger people who pile on weight, becoming diabetic and less active are bucking this trend. 

I have a deep-seated suspicion that my own wartime generation will turn out to have enjoyed the best health and the longest lives in human history. I certainly fear for the motorised, fast-food generations that followed. Thank goodness that fewer bad choices were available to tempt you!