Saturday, 21 July 2012

What are you whistling?

My husband and I have both been whistling ‘I can’t give you anything (but my love)’ by the Stylistics – from the 70s...

I started it, after watching Alan Yentob’s Imagine show on the power of the falsetto.

I think my husband started joining in after I told him about the show’s observation that women love a good male falsetto...

Steve’s whistling may not be up there with Russell Thompkins’ singing. But it’s a sure sign of happiness to be whistling or singing anything, regardless of talent.

And there’s also mounting evidence that singing is good for our health. It’s a known mood booster and now also proven to guard against memory loss. 

In one Japanese study participants who sang along as they worked out retained 70% more information than those who only exercised – even though exercise alone also sends blood to the brain to improve memory.

And, here’s a thing, when I asked Steve the name of that song we were whistling there was no hesitation - he came straight out with it!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Fat chance

Another email from a happy interviewee – and my heart danced with joy when this one arrived today.

Leanne Snowball suffers with a condition called lipoedema – it’s what used to be known as elephantitis. She was embarrassed talking about it, but had decided too few people understood the condition. She even bravely allowed us to publish pictures of her in this week’s That’s Life! magazine. Today she wrote to thank me for the way her story appeared.

Here it is...

‘I was ten years old when my periods started, and my body suddenly ballooned.
My mum, Angela Pink, 31, couldn’t understand it. All through my teens she thought I was overeating in secret. I swore I wasn’t – I was an unusually fussy eater who’d always hated crisps and sweets, along with most other foods.
But nobody could believe that I had really got so big from my tiny portions of plain chicken, pasta and salads.
At school I hid my body under my black blazer and trousers.
I hated dressing up and drawing attention to myself and, when, at 18, I met my first serious boyfriend, Robert Snowball, 19, I used text messaging as a way of helping him get to know me better between dates because I was so scared my size would be a turn off.
We fell in love and married on Robert’s 22nd birthday, when I was 20.
At 21 I started working as a midwife and knew I should practice what I was preaching, and lose weight before starting my own family.
By 23 I’d lost nearly four stone – but it had all come off my torso. My arms and legs remained just as big as ever – and I needed size 28 trousers. 
I started to realise I could become anorexic and still have these huge embarrassing limbs.  It seemed so odd that I searched my symptoms on the internet and found Lipoedema or “Painful Fat Syndrome” - the modern name for what people used to call Elephantitis.
It caused the metabolism to slow down so anything a sufferer ate was likely to be stored as fat. But the main problem was the fatty build up on the limbs. It wasn’t just permanent, but also extremely tender and painful. My limbs were unbearably tender. I seemed to be a classic case.
Yet I was scared to approach my doctor... After all my dieting, and all the years Mum had thought I was stuffing myself, I would have been mortified if he dismissed my online diagnosis and said “No – You’re just fat!” 
It wasn’t until I’d had my sons Alexander, when I was 26, and Benjamin, when I was 28, that the pain got so bad that I finally went to a doctor I knew and trusted from work.
I could have cried when he agreed I had lipoedema. But the bad news was the excess fat had blocked my lymph nodes and now I also had a lot of painful excess fluid that couldn’t drain away – a condition called lymphoedema. 
My doctor referred me to a nurse specialist for treatments to reduce the fluid build up.
But nothing could or ever will shift the stubborn fat on my limbs. Even if I resorted to liposuction, which some women do, it could make the condition worse!
The pain is now so bad I need a morphine like painkiller – but it’s so zonking I daren’t take it when I’m looking after my boys, so can only get relief at weekends when Robert can take over.
Even worse, Lymphoedema makes cuts and bruises so slow to heal that some sufferers have had their infected limbs amputated.
That is a terrifying thought, but there are experts working on a cure!
In the meantime, I hope my story will warn other women not to ignore unusually stubborn fat. If your weight seems wrong for the amount you eat, then it probably is!’

Friday, 6 July 2012

The 30 seconds that could save your life!

This morning I had a lovely email from a woman I recently interviewed. Susan had had the horrible experience of being diagnosed with cervical cancer, and she told me all about it for a piece in Woman's Own magazine. Her story's now been published and she was basically writing to thank me for reporting it accurately (phew!) and for passing on the word about the importance of cervical screening.

Not everyone agrees that the test is important - but it saves 5000 lives a year.  

Here are three reasons for making sure you don't miss out. 

1. It takes just a few seconds
OK so you’ve also got to take time off work, sit in the waiting room, and then get half undressed. ‘But it’s worth it – because the smear test is the single best way of preventing cervical cancer by detecting precancerous changes,’ says Robert Music of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. ‘It’s just a quick brush of the cervix to remove a few surface cells. The test itself takes a few seconds – usually with a nurse - and you’re in and out of the consulting room in minutes.’

2.  The test’s just got even better
Since April this year, all borderline or mild changes have also been tested for HPV (human papilloma virus), the virus that can lead to cervical cancer. Adeola Olaitan, a consultant gynaecologist at London’s University College Hospital, says: ‘Four out of five of us get HPV, caught from genital contact, and it usually clears up without causing any harm. But persistent HPV can trigger cervical cancer, so the combination of HPV and mild cell changes on a smear result is a sign of greater likelihood of precancerous cells, and you’ll be offered treatment to remove these (a procedure known as colposcopy, which takes about 20 minutes as an outpatient). The good news is that, if you have the same cell changes on your smear, but test negative for HPV, you can go back to the usual screening every three or five years. In the past you’d need a repeat smear six months after an abnormal result.’

3. It’s only once every three years
Some say that is not often enough. But it's all you'll be offered - so make the most of it. Once you hit 50 you’ll be invited for smears every five years instead of every three. To my mind that plants the idea that the smear is less important at this age, and a lot of women seem to be thinking the same thing as figures show a decline in attendance after this age.  I've been given no convincing reasons for the change from three-yearly to five-yearly screening post-50, but, with a rise in the divorce rate and hence the number of women in this age group starting new relationships, complacency is dangerous and,  with only two screenings in that decade, I consider this even more reason to make sure you don't miss out. Age does NOT confer immunity: there are around 550 cases a year among 50-64 year olds, and around 260 deaths, according to government statistics. ‘The only reason screening stops at 64 is that, with so few women using HRT (which helps keep vaginal tissue moist) the test can be extremely uncomfortable – so it is also important to take any symptoms seriously, whatever your age,’ says Dr Szarewski, a sexual health expert at the University of London.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Healthy Hints

We health writers receive a lot of gifts through the post – and not all of them useful. In the past few weeks I’ve had supplements for pregnancy, old age, men, and toddlers... I’ve had a huge rain poncho (extra large) under which my whole family could shelter, and a Japanese tummy warmer (which let’s face it could be more useful than you’d normally expect at this time of year). But one gift that really tickled me was Constance Moore’s pocket sized book of ‘Hints on Health from the Victorians’ (£3.99 Summersdale Publishers).

Here are my favourites:
. ‘A cigarette, despite it staining one’s teeth, is notably credited as a miracle cure for illness.’
. ‘Fight off general illness with a healthy dose of mercury, arsenic, iron or phosphorous. If one has a strong heart, mix all together.’
. ‘Treat earache by securing a freshly baked potato to the afflicted ear. Failing that, a baked onion works just as effectively.’
Warning: do not gift this book to anyone of a na├»ve disposition.