Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Your mission this Christmas...

I’ve been hanging silver baubles on the tree, dusting mince pies with icing sugar, soaking dried fruits in marsala … and cursing when the sticky tape sticks to itself instead of the wrapping paper I’m using for my Christmas presents.
Yes – it’s that time of year again. 
And I love it. 
Love looking at the Nativity pictures on my grandchildren’s school website. 
Love listening to choirs singing Once in Royal David’s City (The Pogue’s in New York, not so much).

But I’m also thinking about those who find Christmas so much more of a struggle.
Who, this year, are in too much pain to bake or decorate or fill stockings.
The National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society says, for example, that there are 690,000 people in the UK coping with RA this Christmas.
And in order to raise awareness of the need for improved management of the disease they are calling for more recruits to their Remission Mission.  
They say: “It’s really easy to join – simply take a photograph of yourself, upload it to the photo wall using the upload button and tell us what remission means to you by following the instructions.
The photo wall is open to everyone with RA, family members and friends, regardless of age.”
Sounds like a lovely idea. Happy snapping – Happy Christmas. 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Hangovers past and present

Sad to say the asonor was not a success. But I did find out a possible reason why. I am the wrong kind of snorer.

The British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea website has an online sleep test which helps people work out what kind of snorer they are - it appears I am a multifactoral snorer.
So before you invest in any kind of anti-snoring aid, I’d suggest you visit this site and take the test.

My guinea pig failed to report back, so I am none the wiser. However, I was reasonably impressed with the before and after pix the pr sent of a case study, so I guess if you can afford to try this, it might be worth a go.

Finally … I’ve been sent two products to check out: one aimed at fitness fans, the other at party animals. (I’ll let you guess which category I might fall into).

Blood pressure/endurance
BEET IT Sport Pro-Elite bar contains oats and 400mg of ‘natural dietary nitrate, the equivalent of 400ml beetroot juice.’

It is being marketed as a sport nutrition product because research shows that nitrate ‘interacts with enzymes in alive to boost nitric oxide levels in the blood. This natural vasodilator increases blood flow and oxygen supply to muscles with a beneficial impact on strength and endurance.’

I can’t vouch for that – but I do that know drinking beetroot juice every day can lower your blood pressure. I did it. The only trouble was, I soon began to detest the taste.

It’s possible the BEET IT bars would have the same effect. They certainly taste nicer than a glass of  beetroot juice. (You can get them at Holland and Barret rrp £1.85 a bar). 

O.R.S Hydration Tablets contain a formula of electrolytes, glucose and minerals which, when dissolved in water, help to rehydrate you if you’ve been ill or are have a hangover. (That thumping headache is a sign of dehydration.)

The tablets come in three flavours – lemon, blackcurrant and strawberry – and cost £4.99 for a tube of 12 or £6.99 for 24.

So far, I haven’t had an opportunity to try them out – but there are a few Christmas parties on the calendar so maybe …

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

ZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzz (if only)

OK – I snore. So does my husband. It’s sometimes so bad one or other of us decamps to the spare room. I know I should lose weight and drink less red wine in the evening. But until I manage to do both, will Asonor help?

The first ever clinically proven nasal spray for the relief of snoring … provides relief in 75 per cent of cases, offering snorers (and their partners) a better night’s sleep.
How it works:
It lubricates and softens the mucus membranes in the throat while also tightening its musculature.
RRP £14.75 available online from and Boots.

I don’t get psoriasis – but two members of the family do. It is unpleasant and demoralising. They will try anything that might make a difference. Will Dermalex? I’ll keep you posted.

DERMALEX REPAIR – Scalp Psoriasis
A new non-greasy, steroid and coal-tar free gel for mild to moderate scalp psoriasis. In clinical studies … it has been proven to reduce scalp itching from the first week, and has shown a reduction in scaling from two week.
How it works:
The topical barrier repair gel normalises skin cell production and facilitates the skin’s own repair mechanism. It fortifies the skin’s barrier by creating a protective shield and preventing water loss and soothes symptoms such as scaling, itching, dandruff-like flaking and redness.
RRP £18.99 and available, for example, from and Amazon. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Oh, I wish I'd looked after my teeth

I was never as negligent as the person in the Pam Ayres poem but, even so, my gnashers have always been trouble.

They have been filled, refilled, and extracted. I’ve had crowns, a bridge and an implant, and before my daughter’s wedding I spent many sleepless nights trying to adjust to the gumshields full of an expensive whitener that I hoped would neutralise the effect of the red wine and coffee I’d been drinking so recklessly over the years.

It worked – but only temporarily. So I was keen to try Rapid White’s Instant Whitening Toothpaste. Launched last month and available in Boots it claims to leave teeth up to one and half shades whiter after just one brushing.

Apparently: “The brightening formula with new ‘optical brightening technology’ (no, I don’t know why this is in quotes either) absorbs light and increases the amount of blue light reflected from the teeth, eliminating yellow hues to give you a brighter smile without damaging tooth enamel.”

I brushed optimistically but afterwards I couldn’t see a difference at all – I even took before and after selfies to show you but decided not to publish pictures of my teeth on the grounds that they are too scary.

I will carry on using the toothpaste until it’s finished but at £7.99 a tube (or £5.99 if it’s on special offer) I don’t think I’ll be buying another one!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A little bit of froth

Dualit is one of those brands I think we should all support: iconic designs and – as importantly – stuff that’s made right here in Britain. The company has just announced that they are launching a special pink edition of their classic toaster in October which is, as I’m sure lots of you know, breast cancer awareness month.

Having had my own brush with breast cancer some years ago I don’t really need a special month to make me aware of it, but tie-ins like this are one way of raising money to support various worthy charities. In this case, a charity called the Haven – which has centres in London, Leeds and Hereford providing a wide range of therapies to complement the medical care patients get from the NHS – will get a £20 donation for each toaster sold.

Meanwhile my other half is discovering his inner barista playing with our latest kitchen gadget – Dualit’s milk frother

Maybe the novelty will wear off, but until then I am enjoying my cappuccinos and next time the littlies are here he will be able to magic up babyccinos to amuse them. Who needs Harris and Hoole?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Eye, eye

When did you last have your eyes tested? 
I only ask because I learned last week that having a digital retinal photograph taken could alert you to a range of health problems including diabetes.
Many of us, it seems, overlook some of symptoms of this condition – extreme tiredness or getting up to go to the loo in the night, for example – because we assume this just happens as we get older.

Indeed, according to a survey commissioned by ShARP (the Simplyhealth Advisory Research Panel) almost half of those questioned were already displaying one or more warning signs. Yet 53 per cent had convinced themselves that they were at no risk of developing Type 2 diabetes at all!

So why might a retinal scan be useful? Diabetes can damage the retina – the light-sensitive layer of cells at the back of the eye. The damage occurs because a continuously high blood sugar level can cause the tiny blood vessels that supply the retina to become blocked or leak.

And if the blood vessels in your eyes are affected then so, too will the blood vessels be elsewhere in your body – in your kidneys, for example.

My eyes turned out to be fine. Time you checked yours?

Monday, June 30, 2014

Grow your own

Edible flowers always seem like a lovely idea - so I was pleased when I was given a grow your own kit for my birthday. But how successful would I be?
Not very, it seemed back in May - leggy cornflowers

But look at the marigolds and nasturtiums now!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Stork talk

I know a little bit about wanting a baby and fearing you might never have one (ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage etc) and I am really thankful that I never had to go down the expensive fertility clinic route to end up with my lovely, now grown-up, children.
So I should be pleased that the Stork has landed in the UK.

‘The Stork helps “bridge the gap” between natural intercourse and in-clinic assisted treatments such as intrauterine insemination (IUI), in vitro fertilization (IVF) or clomifene.’

I’m sure there is a market for the Stork. But although using it costs a fraction of what treatment at a private clinic would be, it isn’t exactly cheap – the recommended retail price is £99.95, for which you get just one device to be used in one ovulation cycle.

And it isn’t offering exactly the same as IUI because in a clinic the man’s sperm would be treated to ensure that only the highest-quality motile ones were used for the procedure.

The manufacturers say that cervical cap insemination has a recorded success rate of around 20 per cent which is comparable to IUI - with recorded success rates between 16 and 21 per cent. They also point out that the average the cost of IUI can range from £500 - £1000 depending on where you go and which drugs are required for treatment.

Yet I still wonder if you couldn’t get fitted for a cervical cap for free (do family planning clinics still have them?) and simply use it the same way as the Stork with the same results.

If anyone has tried this, let me know. Meanwhile you can check out the Stork here. And you can buy it here.  

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Heads up

When I edited the health pages on a women’s magazine I was often asked to write about stuff that the NHS wouldn’t do, stuff that people – usually parents – had to spend a fortune on to get abroad or privately in the UK.

Skull helmets for babies were a typical example.

Magazines like running stories about skull helmets because they usually come with cute pix and heart-wrenching quotes. But should journalists really be encouraging parents to buy these devices?

The helmets are designed to correct ‘flat head syndrome’ which is caused by infants frequently lying on the same part of their head.

The syndrome has become more common now that parents are told to put their babies on their backs to sleep to reduce the risk of cot death. Babies also spend a lot of time in those little chairs you can carry from car to home and back again.

The skull helmets have to be worn for several months for up to 23 hours a day. But they can cost more than £2000 – and the first randomised, controlled study of the treatment has found no evidence that they make much difference in skull shape by the time a child is two. 

The study also revealed that all the parents whose babies wore a helmet reported side-effects – from skin irritation to feeling hindered from cuddling their children.

So instead of encouraging worried mums and dads to part with their hard-earned cash for skull helmets without being in possession of all the facts, I'd like magazines and newspapers to try to get the word across that it's not a good idea for babies to spend too much time in the same position - on their back - day and night and to refer them to the sensible advice here.

It says: 
                  Give your baby time on their tummy during the day and encourage them to try new positions during play time.
                  Switch your baby between a sloping chair, a sling and a flat surface, so that there isn't constant pressure on one part of their head.
                  Change the position of toys and mobiles in their cot to encourage your baby to turn their head to the non-flattened side.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Rabbit, rabbit

It’s easy to jump to the wrong conclusion when you write about food and drink as well as family life. Today’s in-box contained an email with the header: Rabbit Awareness Week 10 – 18 May.

Having recently received an alert for watercress week, I opened the email expecting be told about the health benefits of eating rabbit or given recipes for rabbit terrine or pate. 

Instead I read:
It’s Rabbit Awareness Week, from the 10 - 18 May. One million households in the UK own a rabbit, so the RSPCA is encouraging the nation to take the opportunity to learn more about one of the UK’s most popular pets!’


Tuesday, April 22, 2014


It’s three hundred years since George I ascended the throne and ushered in a new age. I’ve always liked the Georgians – maybe because they were a lot like us.

As the Daily Mail  put it:
 Think binge-drinking is a modern phenomenon? Think again.
Georgian Britain was pretty much drunk from dawn to dusk - and for several hours afterwards.
 In fact, many aspects of modern life, from shopping to a rampant hunger for celebrity gossip, have their roots in Georgian Britain. The shopping mall was a Georgian invention, plus furniture catalogues, women’s magazines and a devotion to interior decoration

Be that as it may, there’s a lot of Georgian-related stuff going on this year and over Easter we visited the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace to see the The First Georgians: Art and Monarchy 1714 – 1760.

The exhibition runs until the autumn, so do go – and use the free audio guide to get the most out of the experience.

We exited via the gift shop and were rather amused by all the Buck House branded bling. I was also amused – having decided to buy a tin of biscuits – that they were on a ‘buy-one-get-one-free offer’. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Chocolate is for life ... not just for Easter

It’s nearly Easter – so here are 4 chocolate-related items that may be of interest all year round.

1. Eye Bar
This comes under the category of  ‘what will they think of next’! The EyeBar is a dark chocolate bar enriched with zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamins C and E and copper – said to be essential for eye health.

The blurb says that many people find taking tablets and capsules uncomfortable and can have trouble digesting them, so the chocolate bar is a more enjoyable way of getting the vitamins and minerals that can help protect your eyesight as you get older.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say they are delicious - and the bars are teeny -  but they do taste quite chocolatey and are much nicer than swallowing a pill.
Price:  £20 for a box of 30 individually wrapped bars, available at opticians and independent pharmacies.

2. Choc Shot
Billed as the ultimate dieting cheat, Choc Shot is ‘liquid chocolate that has only 14 calories a teaspoon’ and is (they say) recommended by Weightwatchers and Slimming World.

I like it because it is nut free (so my nut allergy grandchild can have some squeezed on her icecream) but it is also gluten free, soya free, wheat free, dairy free, and egg free, which means it ticks plenty of boxes.

If you’re wondering what’s actually in it, the label says: Sweet Freedom (natural fruit extracts: applea, grapes and carob), water, cocoa, rapeseend oil, natural chocolate flavour. Not a lot of actual chocolate, then and I can’t say I’d give up the real deal for this. But then I’m not dieting, even though I probably should be.
Price: £3.59 for a 320g bottle from leading retailers including Tesco, Sainsbury's, Morrisons.

3. Easter Egg Weigh Up
According to weightlossresources we Brits spend a £4 billion a year on chocolate. This averages out at £65 per person and 53,000 extra calories – enough to help us gain 15lb in a year.

They’ve come up with a guide to buying Easter eggs and some helpful tips to stop you overdosing on crème eggs, truffles and the like. For example they suggest keeping chocolate out of sight in the back of the fridge. 'It will not only stop you constantly nibbling on it and chilled chocolate will last longer in your mouth!’

4. Chocolate Paella (yes, really)
From the restaurant chain La Tasca comes this idea which is either brilliant or appalling – I can’t make my mind up.

If you try it, let me know. Happy Easter

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

When things don't feel at all rosy

Luckily rosacea is something that I have no personal experience of - members of my family seem to have been given psoriasis and eczema in the dermatological lucky dip of life! 

However, I do understand how distressing it is to have to live with a skin condition of any kind, let alone one that is characterised by persistent redness or flushing on the face and neck.

Indeed, recent research shows that more than four out of 10 people with rosacea have received rude comments and stares due to the condition  and almost as many have refused or cancelled social engagements because they were embarrassed about the way they looked. 
Now a new website, Rosacea Uncovered, has been launched by Dermalex, a company that makes skincare treatments. 

Obviously Dermalex have a vested interest in getting visitors to this website, but I’ve checked it out and it looks full of helpful advice and information. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Are you sitting comfortably?

Nice feature in the Times today testing out the desk treadmill, although it wasn’t deemed a success. 

The desk treadmill was devised by obesity expert Professor Joe Levine who led a study which showed lean people burn about 350 extra calories a day through involuntary movements such as pacing around the desk or walking to the photocopier. He also found that fat people tend to be much less fidgety than thin people and spend more time just sitting still.

Now I can’t imagine anything worse than having to walk on a treadmill while conducting a phone interview and simultaneously taking notes. Even typing up notes while treadmilling would, I suspect, be beyond me. But a chair that wobbles as I work – now you’re talking.

Let me introduce the Back App. It’s a ‘saddle’ seated chair without a back rest and moves around to various degrees via a ball at the base. The movement varies from ‘slight’ through to ‘dynamic’.

The chair – especially in the red version – looks like a cross between something you’d see in a Star Trek film or a Shoreditch bar. I was given a less dramatic black one to try out. 

At first it felt rather odd to be more upright than usual, with my feet on the footplate. Yet within minutes I was totally used to sitting this way – and enjoying the wobble effect.

The Back App was invented by a Norwegian who’d had severe back problems: it basically improves sitting posture and strengthens the core muscles to help support the spine. But the wobble effect not only prevents stiffness from sitting too still, it gives you a low level core workout at the same time.

I loved it. I wobbled when talking, thinking, typing. And the wobble effect also reminded me to get off my butt from time to time – instead of spending hours just sitting in front of a screen.

I only tested it for a week but Mike Dilke, the UK distributor of the chair, produced some interesting stats from a Scandinavian study which showed that more than three out of four users reported a significant positive health benefit from sitting on Back App, with 26 per cent saying their back had become stronger.

Sadly, he couldn’t prove that wobbling around the BackApp would help fight the flab – but I’d pick this chair over a treadmill any day. I was sorry to have to give it back. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

The wrong kind of ears?

Love, pain and snoring. What's the link? Stuff I've been sent to try out recently. Here's how things went

The claim: Sweet dreams without annoying sounds … enjoy an undisturbed night’s sleep particularly if you have a snoring partner. Warning sounds (telephone, crying baby) remain audible so you can still wake up if needed.

The verdict: I liked the little storage tube but neither my husband or I managed to get the earplugs to stay in place long enough to test the claims. ‘Useless,’ said the husband. I wondered if we had the wrong sort of ears.

The product: Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love by Marica Naomi Berger (New World Library)

The claim: 30 minutes a week to the relationship you’ve always wanted.

The verdict: The agenda for the weekly meetings should apparently be: expressing appreciation, co-ordinating chores, planning for good times, addressing problems and challenges. The book is full of annoying American couples (Wendy and Zack, you know who you are),  I failed to find any advice on how to deal with snoring – and I’m not sure British couples are ready to set aside half an hour a week for a regular ‘marriage meeting.’

The product:  Pain Reliever Disposable TENS from Lloyds Pharmacy rrp £6.99

The claim: Good for people who need pain relief from sports injuries or for those who suffer from joint pain as a result of a long-term condition.

The verdict: Husband – who suffers from chronic neck and shoulder pain – gave it a try. ‘Useless, he said. I wondered if he had the wrong sort of pain. 
I also pointed out that Lloyds pharmacy offer a free pain assessment service to help people manage their pain better. By then he was asleep – and snoring. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Buzzed off

Mosquitoes have always found me particularly tasty which is why I always slap on anti-mosi stuff even if we're just chilling out in the back garden. So I was interested to get a press release this morning which announced:
New Topical Skin Patch Launches To Stop Insects In Their Tracks This Summer
‘Relax UK has announced that it will make protecting skin from ravenous mosquitoes and other biting insects easier than ever this summer with the launch of the new Don't Bite Me Patch. Using a natural blend of Vitamin B1 and Aloe Vera, the clear topical patch is applied to the skin and actively deters the unwanted attention of those pesky bugs that just wont stop biting. No more chemical sprays or sticky lotions, just a simple, easy and discreet adhesive patch that provides up to 36 hours of guaranteed protection.’

Sounds good. But now comes the scary stuff. According to the press release:

‘Natural products are gaining rapid popularity amongst health conscious consumers worldwide. Many conventional products on the market use an array of ingredients that are proven or suspected of being harmful towards the skin.

‘DEET is of particular concern, studies indicating that the toxic oil could be responsible for neurological damage, Gulf War Syndrome and birth defects in baby boys.

‘The Dont Bite Me Patch is proud to be DEET free and 100% natural. This makes it a safe and non-irritating product that is perfect for sensitive skin types. The formula is also gentle enough to be used on children.’

The trouble is that there is no evidence that Vitamin B1 or aloe vera stop mosquitoes biting – and if you are travelling to countries where maleria is a real risk, using ‘natural products’ could be downright dangerous.

And preying on people’s concerns in this way – especially when it comes to suggesting a link between the anti-mosi sprays you can buy in the supermarket and birth defects – seems pretty underhand to me.

Last year I met insect expert Dr James Logan from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicines who explained that even here in Britain we have more than 30 species of mosquito – and most of them like to dine on us.

Today I asked him about the claims made in the Don't Bite Me Patch press release. He said: 'I have never heard of this product, nor have I ever tested it, However, there is no scientifically published evidence that vitamin B repels mosquitoes. In fact, there is scientific evidence to suggest that it does not work.

‘Aloe vera may have a mild repellent effect, as most essential oils do, but neither aloe vera or vitamin B are recommended as repellents for use against mosquito bites.

‘This point is particularly important to note if you are travelling to a country with mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and dengue. You must use a product which has been scientifically proven to work. The only repellent products that work are those that contain DEET, PMD and picaridin.

‘If you want some protection from mosquito bites in your own back garden in this country, where the mosquitoes do not carry diseases, then use whatever works for you, so long as it is safe to do so. However, bear in mind that we do have ticks in this country that transmit Lyme Disease, so a good repellent containing DEET or PMD should be used.

‘The claim that DEET is unsafe is simply untrue if it is used appropriately and according to label guidelines. DEET has an incredibly good safety record and it has been around for at least 60 years. There are around 500 million applications of DEET to the skin every year. If it was a big problem, we would know about it by now.

'DEET should be recommended for travellers to countries where there is a risk of mosquito-borne disease.'

Despite these wise words, I suspect many of the old wives' tales about what will and what won’t stop mosquitoes biting will persist. Guidelines, published by Public Health England last August, tackled some of the most common. This is what they said:

‘Herbal remedies have not been tested for their ability to prevent or treat malaria.’

 ‘Electronic buzzers (emitting high frequency sound waves) are completely ineffective as mosquito repellents. Companies selling them have been prosecuted and fined under the UK Trades Descriptions Act … advice is that they should not be used.’

‘There is no evidence that vitamin B1 taken orally repels mosquitoes.’

‘There is no evidence that vitamin B12 taken orally has a repellent effect on mosquitoes.'

‘There is no evidence that garlic taken orally repels mosquitoes.’

‘It is sometimes stated that Marmite® taken orally repels mosquitoes either by giving off a cutaneous odour repellent to mosquitoes or via its vitamin B1 content. There is no evidence that either assertion is true.’

‘There is no evidence that tea tree oil is an effective mosquito repellent.’

‘There is no evidence that proprietary bath oils provide effective protection against mosquito bites.’