All posts by DrG

Lethal fats in your weekly shopping

When you get home from your weekly shop at a major supermarket you may be surprised to find many of your items filled with a scary little fat that is known to contribute towards coronary heart disease. The ingredient to look for on your shopping labels is ‘hydrogenated vegetable oil’ or ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oil’, as these foods can often contain trans fats.  Hydrogenation is the process of adding hydrogen to liquid oils to transform them into a solid or semi-solid state. The problem with trans fats is that they are high in LDL cholesterol, which is the bad type that you should try to reduce.

The benefits to the food industry don’t seem to come from extra flavour or nutritional benefits but due to cost and to make the food last longer on the supermarket shelves. It seems that the problem stems from the body’s inability to easily metabolise trans fats. The human enzyme lipase is ineffective against the hydrogenated vegetable oil trans fat. Alex Renton from the Daily Mail likens it to eating candle wax where the fats stay in your blood for longer and are more likely to form deposits on your artery walls. Nutrition experts even say they are more dangerous than the butter they replaced.

Cooking French Fries

Be careful what oils are used when cooking french fries

After many campaigns to eradicate trans fats from foods the food industry started to listen but it seems that trans fats still remain in a host of products. Foods that are more likely to contain trans fats include commercially baked goods such as crackers and cookies as well as fried foods like doughnuts and fries. Other foods to be careful about include: muffins, pizza, pastries, meats, cheeses, cakes and pies.

The problem with trans fats is that we are often unaware of the health risks. Unlike the risks with consuming alcohol or cigarettes that have been well documented, trans fats are often a hidden danger that leaves the consumer in the dark. Be careful what you put into your body and try to minimise your intake of both saturated and trans fat foods.

Back Pain Relief – Lily Allen knows those debilitating pains

Lily Allen discovered the debilitating effects of back pain when it caused her to break down in tears during a gig in Helsinki, Finland. She said on her Twitter page, “(I) fell over badly last night and I’ve really f***** my back up. Just had an injection in my bum. How am I gonna get through tonight’s gig?”. Toby Maguire also reported chronic lower back pains after the filming of Seabiscuit that nearly lost him his famous role in the 2004 film Spider-Man 2. Back pain effects over 80% of the UK population at some point in their lives and it is estimated that over 2.5 million UK people currently suffer upper and lower back pain problems.

Upper and Lower Back Pain Relief

Many people find that back pain will improve within a few days or weeks. Research has also found that about 50% of people who suffer a bout of upper or lower back pain will suffer another bout within 2 years. Back pain is the body’s way of telling you that something is wrong and that needs rectifying. This could be a lifestyle change or simply helping a muscle tear heal. Chronic back pain can last for several weeks and give a constant painful ache that will not go away by itself. You will want to help relieve this back pain so that it doesn’t impair your ability to enjoy day-to-day activities over the coming weeks.

Keep Life Moving

It can be beneficial to rest your back for a couple of days at the start of a bout of chronic upper or lower back pain. Recent research has suggested that resting your back for too long may not be the best long term treatment. Too much rest can lead to a deterioration of back muscles, stiffness, depression and weakening of bones. After an initial rest period try to move little and often and gently stretch whenever possible.

Back pain causes Lily Allen to break down during a performance

Documenting your back pain

It may not seem like you are seeing any improvement or pain relief in your back. Keeping a daily diary can help you monitor changes in the level of pain and also what triggers your back pain.

Strengthen your body

The strength of core abdominal muscles is important in supporting your back. You should try to maintain a good core strength with exercises such as abdominal curls. Most people are either left or right handed. This often means that your one arm is stronger than the other leading to an imbalance of muscle strength across your body.  Evening out this imbalance can lead to better posture and help treat back pain. Try to become more ambidextrous by using your weaker arm to pick up objects or comb your hair.

Heat & Hydrotherapy

Using a whirlpool bath where jets of water are sprayed against the skin’s surface can help give relief to back pain. The warm water raises the core temperature of the body. To help control temperature blood is diverted towards the surface of the skin and away from the inflamed tissue that is lower down. In addition, the stimulation of nerves in the skin can override the pain receptors helping to give temporary upper or lower back pain relief. Water also provides a natural buoyancy to the body that makes movement and exercises easier.

Other products like “Deep Heat” use herbs such as mint and cinnamon to increase the heat in a certain area. This can help to draw blood to the area and override the pain receptors from the deeper tissue. Thank you to Dr Keith Souter at the Daily Mail for some of these back pain tips.

Tell us how you deal with back pain…

Taking a Healthy Catnap

It was reported last week by American researchers that napping can help lower your blood pressure and generally improve the health of your heart. The effects of a nap were even more significant for those who did not get enough night-time sleep.

An African Wild Cat Takes a Quick Nap

Other research carried out in Greece also found that the participants who took at least three, half hour catnaps per week were found to have a 37% lowered risk of suffering a heart related death.  Research from the University of California, Berkeley found that participants taking a 90 minute nap during the day performed better in a mental test than those who did not. In fact, it was found that this 90 minute nap helped repair and store short-term memories, while increasing the brain’s ability to absorb new information. It seems that after the nap your brain is ready to receive and process additional data more readily.

However, is there an art to cat-napping?

How long should I catnap?

6 Minutes: A 2008 German study found that this is enough time to start processing short-term memories to help clear “space” for new information.

20 Minutes: With a twenty minute power nap you go through the first 2 stages of the sleep cycle. When you wake up you will see an improvement in your alertness, concentration and mood level. In fact, even if you don’t fall asleep during this twenty minutes, your relaxed state of mind will still prove to be beneficial.

40 Minutes: A 40 minute nap will provide big benefits if you didn’t get a good nights sleep. This will put you into the REM sleep stage where the brain undergoes a clearing-out and sorting process. Sleep therapist, Dr Narina Ramlakhan at the Capio Nightingale Hospital in London says that “Evidence shows that napping for this amount of time is also enough to rebalance the immune system and pep up energy levels.”

90+ Minutes: Obviously, most people don’t have the time to take a 90+ minute nap during the day. Sleeping for between 90-180 minutes will take you through all the sleep stages and will also result in bodily repairs.

When should I catnap?

This will depend on your sleeping pattern. Typically, your body will release higher levels of melatonin between 1pm-3pm with a peak during the night when you sleep. Melatonin is a hormone that helps relax the body ready for a state of sleep.

If you go to bed early and wake up early then a good time to cat-nap would be around 1pm. Alternatively, if you are a night-owl and tend to go to sleep after midnight then a nap around 2:30pm would be preferable.

For more information check out the Daily Mail.

Top Tips for getting the perfect nights sleep

Have you ever experienced the anxiety of not being able to fall asleep and knowing you will pay the consequences the next day? You may find that your sleep is disturbed, possibly by nightmares; you wake up too early or are simply struggling to fall asleep.

Recent research in the European Heart Journal suggests that the inability to sleep well can lead to a heightened risk of heart disease or stroke. The Healthy Hideout looks at a few of the 89 sleep disorders and gives ideas to help you start enjoying a good night’s sleep once more.

Tossing & Turning

Possible Cause: Temperature

The temperature of both your bed and bedroom can have a big effect on whether you toss and turn in the night. Dr Neil Stanley, an expert with sleep says: “Our bodies follow a strong natural rhythm, rising in temperature through the day and falling overnight.”

“At around 3am we have the biggest dip and anything that makes it difficult for us to lose heat at that point will cause disturbed sleep.”

If you set your central heating to a warm feeling 21C then during the night you may find that you toss and turn in an effort to get cooler. Women who are going through their menstrual cycle may also find that hot flushes cause a similar waking to try to cool the body.

Why not try:

Turn off your central heating earlier in the evening or set your thermostat to be cooler during the night. Dr Stanley says that the ideal temperature under the covers should be around 29C with the bedroom being about 16C allowing heat to be easily lost through the head. Also, make sure you do not overheat your bed with an electric blanket or hot water bottle.

Grogginess when getting up

Possible Cause: Oversleeping or a change in your sleeping routing

Your body loves routine so it can prepare itself for the day ahead. Dr Neil Stanley says “The body craves regularity and wants to get up at the same time every day. It prepares for waking an hour beforehand, But it can only prepare if it knows when you’re going to get up.”

During the night your body will suppress the creation of urine so as to minimize the need to get up during the night. Similarly, gastric juices start to flow when you wake in the morning to prepare you for breakfast.

Why not try:


Try to keep a regular sleeping pattern by not sleeping in late at weekends. It is best if you go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. This way your body can get into a routine and kick start the production of certain hormones at the optimum time. Oversleeping can also throw your body’s natural sleeping rhythm.

You struggle going to sleep early

Possible Cause: Natural body clock

Your body will fall into a natural sleeping routine that becomes habitual. Your body will also be affected by day light. When the body senses sunlight then melatonin is shut down in the body so that you feel more awake. Conversely, the lack of daylight can lead to the creation of melatonin to help you feel sleepy.

Why not try:

Lower the light in the room a little earlier when you are getting ready to go to sleep. This lowered level of light and the release of melatonin can help you get to sleep more easily. Slowly relearn to wake up earlier and if possible let the daylight wake you up.

Waking too early

Possible Cause: Insomnia due to stress or environmental factors

It is unlikely that you will wake up in the first 3 hours of your sleep when you enter a deeper sleep state. However in your latter sleep stages you may be woken more easily and environmental factors or noises may cause you to wake. It is likely that unusual noises are more prone to cause you to wake early.

Another possible cause is insomnia that can be induced by stress. In fact a symptom of stress can be early waking.

Why not try:

Dr. Stanley points out : ‘the big caveat is that if you feel fine during the day then whatever’s happening isn’t a problem.’ Environmental factors or noises may be reduced with a sleeping mask or ear plugs. If you believe your early rising is stress related then ask your local GP for further advice.

For more information and other sleep disorders please see the Mail Online.

Do you want to live a long life?

A recent study has found that living a long life is more down to your lifestyle than your genes. This puts your personal life expectancy very much on your own shoulders. The experts noted that people who live healthy lifestyles in their 50’s are much more likely to live to 90 than those who are not so careful. Therefore, it does not completely follow that if your relatives have lived a long life then you will also enjoy this luxury.

While your genes will play an important part in your susceptibility to certain illness or conditions the study found that lifestyle played a far more significant role. The study was conducted by a group of researchers from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden and looked at 800 men who were born in 1913. The researchers then took detailed medical checks and questionnaires every 10 years to understand how the individual lived. The checks looked at whether the individual smoked, their diets, exercise routine, wage and standard of living.

MyPyramid - Steps to a Healthier You. (United States Department of Agriculture)

Out of the original 800 participants there were 111 who lived to the age of 90. It was found that once the participant had reached 50 then there was no noticeable correlation between when their parents died and when they would end up dying. The research, published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, found that those at 50 years old who did not smoke, lived in better houses, had lower blood pressures and only drank moderate amounts of coffee were more likely to live to 90 years old.

Lead researcher, Professor emeritus Lars Wilhelmsen, said: “We’re breaking new ground here. The study clearly shows that we can influence several of the factors that decide how old we get. This is positive not only for the individual but also for society as it doesn’t entail any major drug costs.”

Other studies have found similar results and have led to some believing that there are 4 factors that will significantly effect how long you live. These factors are: diet, psycho-spiritual, social and exercise. If we can live fulfilled, contented and rounded lifestyles then we greatly increase our chance of hitting the big 100!

Sneeze and risk infecting the entire room for hours

If everyone you know is coming down with a cold and flu then a big culprit to the spread of these germs and viruses is sneezing! We all know that coughing and sneezing can spread colds. However, scientists have discovered that the sneeze from a flu sufferer can lead to the virus not only infecting an entire room but also being contagious for several hours.

This finding gives further evidence to the theory that going into your doctor’s waiting room could lead to you coming out worse than when you entered. The concentrations of germs expelled into the air are large enough so that when breathed in up to over an hour after they were first expelled you can catch the illness. It also highlights why you are more likely to pick up an illness at the start of your holiday after sharing a long plane journey with other people who are ill.

The photo below, caught on a high speed camera gives a visual reminder of just how easily a virus can be spread. Stopping the spread of germs through a sneeze is simply a case of educating people to cover and catch those germs before they are thrown out into the air everyone else in the room is breathing!

Other studies have tended to concentrate on the larger droplets that are expelled and drop to the floor or a surface very quickly. However, this study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface was focussing on the smaller airborne droplets that it found can stay in the air for many hours or even days.

Dr Linsey Marr led the group of researchers from Virgina Tech in the U.S. who took air samples from three cross-country plane journeys, three nurseries and a healthcare clinic’s waiting room. From the samples, droplets of the flu virus were found in half of the cases. The researchers found that a typical cubic metre of air carried in it about 16,000 particles of flu virus. Dr Linsey Marr said, ‘Given these concentrations, the amount of viruses a person would inhale over one hour would be ­adequate to induce infection.’

He also noted that the ventilation systems in most offices will help to remove and circulate the contaminated air fairly quickly. Typically, a sneeze can expel about 40,000 droplets across a room at speeds of more than 100mph. Make sure you cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing so that you don’t spread your illness further.