Friday, 26 October 2012

Uh-oh! It’s the curse of the YorkTest!

I’ve known about, and have written about, the YorkTest for many years. But I’ve never been brave enough to do the test myself – I just couldn’t bring myself to prick my finger and squeeze the blood out.
I was happy to do this for a friend, some time back, though, and the process was gruelling. Her blood was thick and jammy and it took - I'm not joking - about 20 minutes and a lot of finger massaging to get it out. Sorry if you’ve now fainted.
I don’t know why, but even this protracted squeezing of her blood didn’t make me feel at all squeamish. But the thought of doing the same to myself still brought me out in hives.
Then came another YorkTest invitation – last week – to have tea at the Lanesborough Hotel and hear about York’s new research revealing the link between food intolerance and depression (very high, it turns out... Who knew you could be on antidepressants, when all you needed was to drop a food or two from your diet!).
The other journalists were talking about their food intolerance test results – and I realised that, still squeamish, I had mentally blocked my invitation to do this.
But, determined to find out what it was all about, I asked the lovely PR Julia to do the test for me as I averted my eyes and hoped my blood wouldn’t get too close to the jam for our scones.
It took Julia seconds to get the blood she needed, and, this week, I learned the results: I have intolerances to cow’s milk, yeast, egg white, beetroot, and a few wine grape varieties.
This was fascinating news. I already loathe egg white and beetroot, and always have done. I also hate milk – on its own.
But, while dropping beetroot and egg white from my diet poses no problem for me, milk is another matter. I am a cheese-aholic, and also love to start the day with a bowl of natural yogurt and fruit, and, later, a 50:50 milky coffee.
Yeast could be even more of a problem – it means no bread, no wine (although I happily note that champagne is a minimally yeasty wine!), and, according to a kinesiologist who also told me I was yeast intolerant about 12 years ago (and whose advice I ignored, because frankly it was too tiresome), nothing that is fermentable – including fresh fruit and raw vegetables. Mushrooms, being fungii, are naturally yeasty, and, of course, Marmite is out of the question now.
I had just bought a nice lot of Greek yogurt when I received the results, and there was a lovely olive baguette waiting to be eaten too – so I decided to delay my new regime. After all, I don’t have any symptoms that I know of – though I do want to see if anything changes when I stop eating these things.
According to Dr John Mansfield, author of The Six Secrets of Successful Weight Loss, food intolerances lie behind seven out of 10 weight problems. And York’s medical director says I may suddenly feel more energetic and have (sorry!) happier bowels when I avoid my culprit foods.
So today I went off shopping for dairy and yeast free breakfasts to replace my lovely yogurt.
It’s not that easy!
What will I put in my coffee?
I hate soya milk, and other options such as almond milk tend to contain additives and sugar (and sugar is another food we avoid when we can’t eat yeast).
And, if I go for black coffee, I will find it too bitter unless I sweeten it...
I have plumped for a new cow’s milk that doesn’t contain the milk protein – hopefully the York nutritionist will say that’s OK. My plan B is something called oat drink (I’ll let you know what it’s like).
I can put this in my coffee and use it to make porridge instead of eating yogurt (though I do recall oats making me bloated in the past...). If I get clever I may even make some yogurt with it (once I’ve found out how to get the start up culture without resorting to normal yogurt). And I will sweeten my porridge or home made yogurt with pure granulated Xylitol.
Instead of toast, I will try Matzos or rice cakes – with peanut butter, instead of dairy, and banana (if the nutritionist says it’s not too sugary and fermentable).
Steve is already muttering that he doesn’t like the idea of me becoming an even fussier eater (he can’t understand the no beetroot or egg white thing!). But I reckon most of our evening meals will be OK – as long as he uses my milk for any Bechamel, and doesn’t try to tempt me with a glass of wine and the cheese board.
I’ll let you know how I get on!

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Is it faux depression?

Where I live, the Thames riverside is gorgeous at the moment, lined with golden leafed trees. But let’s not forget that these are also a sign that we are in the season of melancholy – the time when, once the clocks change, next week, we will all start talking about SAD – even if we don’t actually suffer from it ourselves.

It is a condition that is supposedly relieved by a bit of extra vitamin D and sunshine, or light treatment, but there are many other causes of faux depression too.

. It could be your hormones...
We all know about PMS – but in its most severe form, it can be mistaken for clinical depression, with weepiness, loss of self-confidence, energy and libido. Unfortunately no amount of antidepressants will help – and your condition will just continue to get worse. Suspect your hormones if you were well balanced in pregnancy but then suffered postnatal depression, and dramatic mood swings (sometimes mistaken for bipolar disorder) or a permanent dip in mood after having your baby. The pattern of mood changes isn’t always clearly linked to your period when it’s this severe, but treatment with oestrogen gel together with testosterone and seven days of progesterone pills a month stabilises hormones and successfully treats this type of depression, according to Professor John Studd of the London PMS and Menopause Centre.
. You may need a test for vitamin B12 
Vitamin B12 (from animal products such as fish, meat, poultry, eggs and milk) helps with the manufacture of key brain chemicals affecting mood, and if you’re not getting enough from your diet, this can leave you feeling weepy and drained with mood swings, poor concentration, and fear of social situations. Again, classic symptoms of depression! Some people develop an inability to absorb B12 from the digestive tract – a condition known as Pernicious Anaemia, which has to be diagnosed by a specific blood test. ‘In an ideal world everyone going to their doctor with symptoms of depression should be tested for B12 deficiency,’ says Carrie-Anne Carr of the Pernicious Anaemia Society. ‘Three of our members have been sectioned when all they needed was B12 treatment. It costs the NHS about 26p to give a B12 injection (ideally once a month if you need it), compared to £26 for a month’s supply of antidepressants you don’t really need. The next best thing to an injection is a B12 lozenge that melts under the tongue, fast tracking it into your bloodstream.’

. You could just need to get out more...
When you miss out on exercise, you also miss out on the cascade of feel good endorphins that it triggers. Research shows that a brisk 20-30 minute walk works as well as a mild tranquillizer, and  the mental health charity Mind says research regular supervised exercise is proven to be just as effective as antidepressants for mild to moderate depression. Tip: walk outdoors – it’s twice as likely to boost your mood as indoor exercise according to a Mind study.

 . You’ve got a sweet tooth
Too much sugar leads to blood sugar highs and lows – and the lows are associated with big dips in mood, as well as cravings for more sugar, warns Patrick Holford, author of ‘Say No To Diabetes’ (£13.99 Piatkus). ‘The worse your blood sugar balance, the worse their mood will be – and diabetics, whose condition makes it difficult to control blood sugar, have a very high rate of depression. Sugar cravings can be brought on by a dip in levels of the brain chemical serotonin, which is made from the natural amino acid 5-HTP. Taking a 5-HTP supplement (eg Biocare 5-HTP, £17.50 for 60 capsules) can dramatically improve both your mood – and your craving for sugar.’

. Maybe you’re not eating enough fat
Or at least not enough of the right type of fat. ‘Modern diets are rich in omega-6 (from processed foods, biscuits etc) and often low in long-chain omega-3 fats and this imbalance can leave us deficient in mood-regulating ‘good fats’ such as EPA,’ says Nutrition Scientist Dr Nina Bailey, Nutrition Scientist. ‘You need sufficient levels of EPA to create feel-good chemicals tryptophan and serotonin. The prescription-strength supplement Vegepa E-EPA 70, £13.99 for 60 capsules - available from,, has been shown to be as effective as antidepressants. As with conventional medication, however, dosage is essential – 1 gram daily for a minimum of three months is required for therapeutic effects.’

. Or it’s because you’re already taking other medicines...
An A-Z of common medicines list depression as a possible but undesirable side effect – including many for heart disease, high blood pressure and cholesterol, and even some drugs used for anxiety, says pharmacist Shaina Shipton, who’s co-founder of ‘If you suspect you’re depressed as a result of something you’re taking, ask your pharmacist for a Yellow Card form to report an adverse reaction to the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority (MHRA), visit your doctor as soon as possible for advice (eg reducing the drug or finding an alternative), and don’t stop taking the medication unless your doctor advises this.

.  And if you do just need more sunshine...
We get vitamin D from sunshine, and SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is notorious for affecting 1 in 50 people during the winter months, with as many as 1 in 8 getting a milder form of winter blues. But experts now realise that even in the summer months it’s hard for Brits to get enough vitamin D from sunshine, and research has shown that half of us have insufficient levels – and this is especially the case if you’re depressed, says women’s health guru Dr Marilyn Glenville. ‘You may also be more likely to develop PMS if you are lacking in vitamin D, so top up with a good multivitamin eg NHP's Healthy Woman Support (£22.97 for 60 capsules from health shops) which contains 400iu of vitamin D3.’