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Recent rise in eating disorders

Blog post written by Lynn Crilly, author of Hope with Eating Disorders.

 

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, eating disorder cases have risen tremendously, especially in younger children. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health snapshot survey suggests in some parts of Great Britain doctors have seen a three or four-fold increase in cases compared to last year.

Eating disorders often stem from trauma, stress, anxiety and feeling out of control; the coronavirus pandemic has reinforced a lot of these negative emotions. Isolation from friends during school closures, exam cancellations, loss of extra-curricular activities like sport, and an increased use of social media could all be credited with the rise in those suffering. Sadly, reduced access to face-to-face therapy and support may have led to young people becoming severely ill by the time they were able to be seen by a professional.

As a mental health counsellor myself, I have also seen a rise in those relapsing from their recovery. The worry the beginning of the pandemic brought, with fears of food shortages, lack of face-to-face support and therapy, the dramatic change in people’s routine and the constant uncertainty have severely impacted those who were on a good recovery path prior to the pandemic.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, there is a lot of help and support online; the charity SANE have some wonderful services to guide you in the right direction for help and support – “Although our previous SANEline number cannot operate at the moment, you can leave a message on 07984 967 708 giving your first name and a contact number, and one of our professionals or senior volunteers will call you back as soon as practicable. You can also contact us, as before, through our Support Forum, Textcare and other services.”

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Family approach to therapy

Blog post written by Lynn Crilly, author of the Hope with Mental Health series, available here. 

Counselling and therapy have a number of benefits for those suffering from mental ill health. Firstly, it allows them to feel valued; it also provides a forum for them to explore their feelings and, by its very nature, is tailored to the individual.

There is no set format for counsellors, which means that they must, to some extent, treat everyone’s case individually. As such, it is crucial in counselling, perhaps more so than in any other type of therapy, to find the right ‘fit’ in terms of a practitioner. A good counsellor should make their client feel safe, secure and valued at all times. They should establish a bond of trust with their clients and make it easy for them to discuss potentially painful or difficult issues.

As a mental health counsellor myself, I ensure I have met with a sufferer’s parents or carers before I commence working with them, if they are under 18. Many people are surprised that I insist on this. I have always been of the opinion, however, that rehabilitating any mental illness is a group effort and one which will involve constant channels of communication between the client and the people who are most influential in their life. If a client is over 18 and they have approached me independently, I will usually bring carers into the process a little further into therapy. Under the Data Protection Act, I of course have to gain the client’s permission to share information with the carers. Once I have explained the paramount importance of trust and communication, this permission is normally granted. I like the families of my clients to understand my methods and the work I will undertake with their loved ones, so, they can be as helpful and supportive as possible throughout the recovery process. Recovery can sometimes be a long process, with the sufferer’s mind-set changing at each stage, sometimes on a day-by-day basis.

It is important that carers are aware of the changes to help them to gain a real insight into how their loved one is thinking and feeling at each juncture within the process. This is why I prefer to keep them in the loop so they can give the support, non-judgmental communication and empathy that I give in my sessions, at home.

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Why I wrote The New Alchemists

Blog post written by Bernie Garrett, author of The New Alchemists, launches 29th July. Available for pre-order now.

The title and the cover…

A number of people have asked me about the Image on the cover of my new book, and the reason for the title: The New Alchemists: The rise of deceptive healthcare. I got the idea for the title when I was researching the nature of health scams and why people fall for them a few years back. It struck me that many of the practices of those marketing dubious health products were remarkably similar to those made by the ancient alchemists. For example, a major part of early alchemist’s work was not actually on turning metal into gold, but focused on finding an elixir of immortality, essentially the ultimate health potion! Much bad-press was received by alchemists, primarily arising from the fact the field was inundated with cheats and imposters who swindled unsuspecting people who had turned to them in desperation over their health and financial problems. Similarly, modern day health scammers use similar tactics to cheat people out of their money with the promise of improved health or magical cures. The picture on the front of the book depicts the alchemist’s symbol for gold embossed on a sticking plaster, which I found very apt.

 

What got me interested in health scams

The reason I got interested in all this goes back many years. Firstly, I have firsthand family experience of confidence tricksters (which I describe in the introduction to the book), but secondly, after 35 years working in professional healthcare, you get to see quite a bit of dubious practice, and people who have been taken in by health scammers, or simply misinformed by well-meaning folks who were inadequately qualified to give professional health advice.

As a practising nurse I came across many patients who had been scammed by people selling fake health products, or given inaccurate or even dangerous health advice. We even saw some patients on the renal unit where I worked with kidney failure after taking toxic substances marketed as traditional cures. I also encountered some dubious sales tactics used by pharmaceutical companies and their representatives. It was interesting to observe that the companies always approached the best looking nurses with offers of jobs to sell their products!

 

The Wild-West of health practices

When I moved to Canada in 2003, I was surprised at the lack of regulation in the advertising and promotion of dubious health practices across North America. It literally is the Wild-West in many respects. In one early visit to a professional conference, I was offered an opportunity to partake in a sponsored therapeutic touch session during the lunch break (which actually involved no touch at all). I had not come across this before, but was astonished to find that what was actually taking place was faith-healing. This in itself was not such a problem, as I have no issue with people using whatever spiritual practices they feel may help them. However, the claims that the practitioners were making about their abilities to detect changes in undetectable “biofield energies” to accelerate healing and cure various illnesses and that their work was substantiated by science were an issue, particularly as they were charging over $100 a session! Another example I came across was a local faith-healer who called himself the “Dreamhealer” and who marketed remote healing seminars for cancer for thousands of dollars a session; he also promoted his “international best-selling” books (which in truth appeared to be self-published). One of my colleagues was recommending him and he even had a local psychology professor working with him at one stage.

The more I looked around, the more deceptive health practices I came across. From fake practitioners and alternative health practitioners making false claims about the effectiveness of their therapies, mail-order professional health qualifications and scam nutritional supplements to fake cancer and addiction treatment clinics, pharmaceutical companies mis-marketing drugs and price-fixing and celebrities selling useless health products, the list was never-ending. As a nurse and health science advocate I became interested in how these practices were marketed, and the psychology behind selling such health scams successfully to the public. One thing I found was that everyone had been taken in by some sort of health deception at some point in their life.

 

Health scams and COVID-19

I started writing The New Alchemists before the recent COVID-19 pandemic had begun; not surprisingly, the pandemic has only made health scams worse. Over the last year or so we have seen a massive volume of COVID-19 misinformation being spread on social media (a natural home for health scam activity), with many fake treatments and cures being promoted. Overall, all these developments led to my research interests moving further into the exploration of the nature of deception in healthcare, and eventually to documenting the worst examples in this new book.

 

My aims in writing The New Alchemists

In The New Alchemists I explore how fraudsters circumvent our critical faculties and succeed in taking in otherwise intelligent people with their claims, often to make a very lucrative living. I also aim to provide informative and useful guidance on how to recognise and avoid such health deception in the future. If something is too good to be true it almost certainly is, and there is an awful lot of such deception about.

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Vegan recipes for National Picnic Week

Photo credits – Andy Smart (@smartsnappers)

As National Picnic Week starts on Monday 21st June, what better way to celebrate than by trying out these four delicious vegan recipes, perfect for any picnic in the sunshine! Taken from our upcoming release ‘Feeding Your Vegan Child’ by Sandra Hood, available for pre-order now, launches 29th June.

 

Vegan sausage rolls (makes 8 sausages, 4 servings)

There are many shop-bought vegan sausage rolls now available but home-made sausages are worth the trouble and are very quick and easy to make.

For the sausages:

  • water or oil for cooking
  • 100g mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove (optional)
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 50g oats
  • 400g tin of beans of choice
  • 40g of ground almonds (or nut of choice)
  • seasoning to taste
  • oil for frying

For the pastry:

  • 250g plain flour
  • 100g margarine
  • 5 tbsps very cold water

Method:

  • Heat a little water (or oil) in a pan, add the onions and garlic and cook until soft
  • Add the mushrooms and cook for a further 5 minutes
  • Stir in the oats and add the paprika and cook for a few minutes more
  • In a separate bowl mash the beans (or blitz in a blender), add all the other ingredients and form into sausages
  • Fry in a little oil, *or baste with oil and bake in a hot over for 20 minutes, turning half way through
  • Rub the margarine into the flour to form fine breadcrumbs
  • Sprinkle on the water and gently knead until it starts to form a soft but firm mixture
  • Roll out into an oblong and on one side of the pastry lay the sausages
  • Fold over the pastry and seal the edges with water. Cut into sausage rolls. Brush with plant milk and cook for 20-30 minutes at 200o C/400o F/gas mark 6

 

Nori rolls (GF) (4 servings)

Ideal for parties and picnics. Instead of the filling in the recipe, you can use other popular fillings such as tofu and avocado, beans and sweet potatoes, sweetcorn and nuts.

  • 4 large sheets dried nori
  • 50g rice
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 3 tbsps peas
  • 1 spring onion, chopped
  • 50g grated soya cheese

 

Method:

  • Cook the rice in boiling water but 5 minutes before it is going to be ready, add the diced carrot and cook for 5 minutes
  • Add the peas and onion and bring to the boil, then drain off any remaining water
  • Remove from the heat and add the grated cheese. Allow to cool
  • Spread it onto the sheets of nori, moisten the edges with water and roll up. Cut each roll into four pieces

 

Chocolate brownies (makes 16)

No picnic is complete without some delicious chocolate brownies!

  • 225 g dates
  • 60 g wholemeal flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 30g cocoa powder
  • 100g margarine
  • 1 very ripe banana, mashed
  • 75 g nuts (optional) of choice e.g. pecans or walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence

Method:

  • Pre-heat your oven to 180o C/350o F/Gas 4
  • Place the dates in a medium saucepan with just enough water to cover them
  • Cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes or until soft, then drain off the water, run them under a cold tap to cool and purée the dates
  • Cream together the dates and margarine until light and fluffy
  • Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder into the date mixture
  • Add the banana, nuts (optional) and vanilla essence
  • Pour into a lightly oiled tin (18 x 25 cm), spread evenly and bake in the oven for approximately 20-25 minutes or until the brownies start to come away from the sides of the dish
  • Allow to cool, then cut and serve

 

Scones (makes 20)

Finally, some classic scones to complete your picnic spread! Try them with coconut cream and jam for a delicious fruity number.

  • 450g self-raising flour
  • 100g margarine
  • 25g sugar (or replace with dried fruit)
  • 235ml water
  • pinch salt

 

Method:

  • Pre-heat your oven to 450o F/230o C/gas mark 8
  • Grease a large baking sheet with vegetable oil
  • Sift the flour and rub in the margarine until fine breadcrumbs are formed
  • Stir in the sugar or dried fruit
  • Add enough water to make a soft dough
  • Knead gently and roll out until about 1 cm/½ inch thickness
  • Cut into 20 rounds, brush with plant milk and cook for approximately 8-10 minutes

 

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Ending lockdown for people with dementia and their carers

Blog post written by Mary Jordan, author of ‘The Essential Carer’s Guide’ and ‘The Essential Carer’s Guide to Dementia’.

 

If lockdown has been hard for many people, then emerging from lockdown may cause its own problems! Many have been made so afraid of infection that they have refrained from taking steps back into society again even when this was allowed. I have clients who tell me that they have not left their home for over a year. Many are really afraid to visit their GP (even when they can get an appointment) or to go to the hospital for important outpatient appointments. Some have avoided dental checks or eyesight appointments.

Carers know instinctively that routine is good for those with dementia – they find it easier to cope when there is a set pattern to the day and more difficult to cope when their routine is upset. This past year has disrupted many lives. Routines of social interaction have been interrupted and disturbed. Familiar visitors have stopped visiting. Family have kept their distance. Even those of us who are able to understand the reasoning behind the disrupted routines have been disturbed and depressed – how much more difficult for those unable to understand what is happening?

I have found it quite disconcerting when people have told me that they have become ‘used to’ staying at home and are reluctant to go out and meet others because I know that meeting up with other people, talking, touching and mixing are very important for those with dementia. Perhaps it is easy to forget how vital such activities are for carers too.

The Cognitive Stimulation Therapy groups that I run have been able to continue (under Covid-secure guidelines) since September and people have been very grateful for this, but the Dementia Café has not been allowed to run and carers have told me that they really missed this facility. It seems that the simple chance to meet along with the person they are caring for, in an informal social setting was considered by many to be a lifeline.

Now, hopefully things are changing again and we can once more meet up with family, friends and supporters.  I feel it is important to embrace this new ‘opening up’ of society both for people with dementia and for their carers. But perhaps we should also take note of the fact that life can change suddenly and unexpectedly and that things can happen that are beyond our control. We cannot plan for every contingency but we can all remain open to considering change and accepting the need to adapt – and this is particularly true when caring for someone with dementia.

 

‘Solutions in Dementia’ by Mary Jordan (due in 2022) addresses the many occasions of dramatic change that can happen as dementia progresses and highlights some solutions that have been found helpful.

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How I came to write ‘Feeding Your Vegan Child’

Blog post written by Sandra Hood, author of ‘Feeding Your Vegan Child’. Available for pre-order now, launches 29th June.

 

When I first became vegan I was bombarded by friends and family who were really worried that I would become ill!  But this was back in the 1970’s.  There were no vegetarian, let alone vegan, ready meals available then. Meat and two veg was the norm with the Dairy Council diary being found in most households and adverts for the daily pinta and ‘go to work on an egg’ rife!!   I remember making cheese with the only vegan margarine available – melting it and stirring in soya flour and yeast extract and waiting for it to go hard – it was surprisingly tasty!

I joined the Vegan Society and as a member I received a small A5 magazine every month full of tips and recipes.  I loved the holistic approach, providing information on diet, animals and the environment.  It included a contact list so one could link up with other like-minded people – there were very few vegans back in the 1970’s!  Fortunately, there was a local vegan group near where I lived and my younger sister, who had been vegetarian since a child, and I went along.  I remember food was the main focus, with cakes and dishes being shared with great enthusiasm!  Those groups were so important back then to be able to spend time with others.

What’s cooking?

It was at the local meetings I met the wonderful Eva Batt.  I was so lucky to have a ‘celebrity’ living near me!  Eva wrote the first vegan cook book – ‘What’s Cooking’.  Eva inspired me to cook wonderful vegan dishes – back then everything had to be cooked from scratch, no ready meals then!  Her dishes were nutritious, colourful and tasty.   I still use Eva’s recipes to this day.

The first plant milk in the UK

As a member of the Vegan Society I was invited to attend the Vegan Society AGMs.  Back then, as the membership was so small, the AGM’s were held in the garden of Kathleen Jannaway, secretary of the Vegan Society. It was there where I met the late Arthur Ling.  There were no milk alternatives in the UK in the 1960’s and Arthur and a small group of other vegans tried unsuccessfully to get non-dairy milks imported into the UK.  Failing to achieve this they decided to produce their own and in 1964 Plamil was produced.  Check out the Plamil website to find out more about its fascinating history.  The company went on to produce other vegan products and is still going strong.  Arthur’s son Adrian, vegan from birth, runs the company and is known as the vegan Willy Wonka.

Children’s case histories

I worked with Arthur for a number of years. Whilst working at Plamil I was able to indulge in its other vegan products including peas pudding, rice pudding and delicious chocolates.  The soya milk came in tins and later moved to tetrapaks.  It came concentrated and you diluted it yourself with water.  The thought was that it was practical, not having to carry the extra weight of water, and also saved on packaging.  Wouldn’t it be great if this was the case today?  More environmentally friendly and really practical!! Arthur was way ahead of his time.

Arthur was so passionate about appropriate nutrition for children and adults.  He meticulously kept records of children whose parents were raising them on vegan diets and I was involved in researching these case histories.  I was fascinated by the simple whole foods that the parents were giving their children and how they thrived.  Plamil Foods produced 4 copies of these case histories over the years, with the first one produced in 1973 and the last one in 2000.

I wanted to learn more and I decided to study nutrition.  I also wanted to find out for sure whether a vegan diet was ‘safe’ and be able to answer the ongoing criticisms from friends and family, the majority without any nutrition knowledge, who said that the vegan diet wasn’t ‘natural’ and was inferior to an omnivorous diet.

Becoming a dietitian

University was tough and I was known as ‘the vegan’.  However, I thrived and decided to do the extra year’s study to qualify as a dietitian.  After qualification I was fortunate to secure a full-time post as a community dietitian.  I kept in close contact with the Vegan Society who welcomed my knowledge and asked me to become their gratis dietitian.  As such as I provided a nutrition page, answered questions and was generally available for any nutrition queries.

My first book

The Vegan Society was regularly being contacted by parents and health professionals alike asking nutrition questions about raising vegan children.  I suggested to the Vegan Society that we produced a book to support parents and health professions and in 2004 I wrote ‘Feeding your vegan infant – with confidence’.  The idea was to produce a complete guide from preconception through to infancy to reassure parents and health professionals alike that it was possible to raise children happily and healthily on a vegan diet.

Today

Over the last couple of years there has been such a growth in plant-based eating.  Vegan diets are now something to aspire to.  Evidence is clear that raising children on plant-based diets not only meets nutritional requirements but indeed can benefit health.  In addition, it is the way forward for the planet.  As my book was still the only UK version on raising vegan children, I thought this was the perfect time for an update.  I wanted it to remain a practical but readable book to assist both vegan parents and health professionals. I am really hoping my book will do this.

 

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Why Volunteer?

With both Volunteers Week and Carers Week this month, it is an important time to think about what we can do for others. Author of ‘Who Cares?’ and winner of The People’s Book Prize 2020/21 Best Achievement Award, Sara Challice, explains how you can offer help to others through volunteering and why it is important to get involved.

I think we are all aware of the countless volunteers who have rallied round to help during this last year’s pandemic. In giving just a little bit of time, we can make a huge difference for many.

I discovered our local charities and the great work they do, after my husband became disabled from a brain tumour. Although he was given six weeks of physiotherapy from our hospital once he came home, this service was stopped soon after and his file was closed. I was then left attempting to pick up a man twice my size from the floor as he continued to have falls and deteriorated further.

During this time, I was told of a charity called INS (Integrated Neurological Services). I had never heard of them – why would I? They were in our local area, and offered one-to-one physiotherapy plus more, and I would also receive support as a carer. We immediately registered with the charity and met a wonderful group of people, who helped support us both during our challenging times.

Had I not become involved with this charity and and the the great work they do, I wouldn’t have known about the difference they were making in others’ lives. I became a trustee for them and discovered that there were times they were financially hand-to-mouth. You would naturally presume these charities would just be there for us forever, as and when we may need them, but that’s just not the case.

Many who have been diagnosed with a neurological condition and those caring for them, are often isolated, left struggling at home – and you don’t need to be old! Any of us may suddenly need this vital support.

Charities and the voluntary sector help to connect and support within our communities – empowering and ensuring a better quality of life for many, even keeping them at bay from hospital.

But what do you, as a volunteer, receive from your altruistic actions?

If you offer to volunteer, it doesn’t have to take up much of your time. You can make a real difference in others’ lives – more than you even realise! You will most definitely gain knowledge and meet some wonderful and inspiring people. Plus, in being kind and offering to help, is actually beneficial for you. There is a term known as the ‘Helpers High’ – as you give to others, this distracts you from your own problems, releasing endorphins making you feel good. Helping others gives you a sense of purpose, boosting your serotonin levels which lowers stress and improves your mood.

And in offering to volunteer, this can create a positive ripple effect, inspiring those around you. I have certainly had friends and family who have become involved with the various charities I have supported over the years.

So if you’ve been thinking of offering a bit of time to help others, why not get in touch with either your local or national charities, for a cause that may be close to your heart. You never know, you may learn new skills, gain new insight and meet some wonderful people as I have.

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Mental Health Awareness Week Blog Special

Blog post written by Dr Trevor Griffiths and Dr Marian Langsford, authors of Emotional Logic. Available for pre-order now, launches 27th May.

The authors of Emotional Logic: Harnessing your emotions into inner strength have been married for nearly forty years. Marian still practices medicine under her maiden name of Langsford. They both now teach internationally the Emotional Logic method of preventing stress-related mental and physical illnesses, which Trevor developed while in medical practice. The best compliment they have received, they say, was from a medical student in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, who stood up after a training session and said, “I have learnt today that it is really cool to be old, and married, and still together, ‘cos you get to travel the world and inspire people like us!” We don’t look very old; we received that as the honour it was intended to convey in that culture.

Learning to activate your inbuilt Emotional Logic helps to build more responsive relationships in any new situations you face. And it can be learnt at any age. An active schools programme in the UK has a wide range of age-appropriate materials, such that a five-year-old boy took an emotion leaf from a ‘Talking Together Tree’ they had made in the classroom, and took it to the teacher saying, “I would like to tell the class why I am feeling angry about something.” Imagine the difference that ability to talk sensibly about emotions rather than only act them out, or regulate them, might have.

In Chapter 1, Trevor comments on Marian’s story about a misunderstanding with a friend who had offered to help tidy her garden one autumn. She had told how understanding the emotional logic of her many loss reactions that followed helped to avoid a break-up. Here is an extract from Trevor:

As the eldest daughter in a Devon farming family, Marian grew up on a mixed dairy and horticulture farm overlooking rolling hills, surrounded by buckets of early flowers that needed bunching each evening for market the next day. They were not rich. She loved it. She has a wisdom from nature that I had missed, having been brought up in the London suburbs. For example, she once said, “Gardening isn’t all about pulling up weeds. You have to plant something in the earth in its place, and care for it.” A comment like that can leave me fixed into a garden chair for ages while I watch her getting her hands covered in earth and planting. Something simple like this can lead me to a lot of thinking, which I consider is my core skill.

So, what do I think about? I think a lot about human nature. I think things like, ‘Seemingly small things that break out on the surface of people’s lives can have deeper roots than we realise at first.’ It took me a few decades to realise that it did me a lot of good to listen to Marian. I think many men discover the same at some point in their married lives…

Emotional Logic was born out of years of experience in general medical practice, and out of a disrupted family background that Trevor experienced as traumatising. With a depth of emotional memories to draw upon, Emotional Logic harnesses the language of emotions into the inner strength needed to come through times of trouble stronger and healthier. Post-traumatic growth is encouraged as a way forward from post-traumatic stress. As a senior Community Psychiatric Nurse who uses Emotional Logic in her work said, “Emotional Logic heals the broken heart behind mental illness.”

Once learnt, people can share their new trauma-responsive conversational skills in their daily encounters with others. This prevents isolation following hurts. It reduces the risk of illness by building greater resilience and a realistic hope for recovery into relationships. Even if setbacks and disappointments occur, knowing how to activate one’s inbuilt Emotional Logic provides a world of constructive options to talk about. And where is there better to talk and to explore new ways forward than in nature, where the seeds of something beautiful in life can take root and grow.

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5 Ways to Prevent or Reverse Hypertension

Blog post written by Dr Eugene Kongnyuy, author of No Pills, No Needles, launching 25th May.

 

10 years ago, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure (hypertension). As a physician and researcher, I decided to self-experiment. My aim was to find out what could successfully reverse my hypertension so that I could stop taking blood pressure (BP) medicine. I tried over 70 different things including salt restriction, meditation, stress management, different dietary regimens, weight loss, walking, etc. After 5 years of self-experimenting, none of the things worked for me and I felt disappointed.

In order to keep fit, I decided to run or jog for 1 hour every morning. Six months after I started this programme of 1 hour per day of regular exercise, I took my BP and it was very low. I stopped the BP medicine and the hypertension was gone.

One hour of regular moderate to high intensity exercise per day may be what you need to reverse your high blood pressure. Over the years, I have kept with 1 hour of exercise per day while tracking my BP and I have learned a lot more. Here are some of things that I have learned that can help you either prevent or reverse hypertension.

 

  1. Exercise regularly

Exercise is the centrepiece for the prevention or reversal of high blood pressure. Experts recommend 150 to 300 of moderate exercise (or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise) per week. This is what you need to prevent hypertension. In order to reverse hypertension, you would probably need a lot more. To reverse hypertension, I had to do 1 hour of moderate to vigorous exercise per day (or 420 minutes per week).

First, aerobic or ‘cardio’ exercises cause repetitive contraction of large muscle groups which in turn forces the heart to work hard and pump blood to the muscles. Regular ‘cardio’ workouts, such as jogging, brisk walking, running, cycling, swimming, yoga, dancing, football, golf, hiking and basketball, increase the heart rate and train the heart muscles[1]. You need to train your heart muscles to pump blood more efficiently and this takes time. The longer the duration of each exercise, the better the results. Cardio training over several months causes a significant fall in blood pressure.

Second, exercise causes the endothelium (inner wall of blood vessels) in exercising muscles to produce nitric oxide and prostacyclin, both of which promote enhanced vasodilatation by relaxing the smooth muscle cells in the blood vessel walls[2].

Third, exercise blocks the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS), a hormone system that, when stimulated, raises blood pressure by increasing vascular resistance and causing sodium retention by the kidneys. This causes the blood vessels to widen and the kidneys to flush out sodium.

Fourth, exercise blocks the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). This causes the blood vessels to relax and widen, which in turn reduces the blood pressure. The SNS is one of the two main divisions of the autonomic nervous system (the other being the parasympathetic nervous system – PNS) that is responsible for our ‘fight or flight’ response among other things. The autonomic nervous system is a control system that acts largely unconsciously and regulates bodily functions, such as heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, pupillary response in the eyes, urination, and sexual arousal. The SNS activation causes BP to rise. Once activated, the system fires electrical signals that lead to the release of the hormone adrenaline by the adrenal gland. Exercise blocks the SNS and therefore lowers the BP.

 

  1. Get active

Exercising plus being physically active throughout the day is more effective than exercise alone. I realised that each day when I came back from work, I did between 1000 to 2000 steps. I spent most of the day sitting. I decided to change my desk to a standing workstation. I remained standing while working, reading emails, writing, and I held standing meetings. The number of steps I did per day increased from 1000-2000 to 4000-5000 steps. I observed that my systolic BP was about 10 mm Hg lower during the day than it would otherwise be when I wasn’t physically active. I also find gardening, cooking and cleaning very helpful in keeping me physically active. There are many other ways to be physically active and each person can figure out what he or she can do to avoid a sedentary lifestyle.

 

  1. Get sweaty

Sweating lowers blood pressure by causing the dilation of blood vessels under the skin as well as loss of water and salt. I found that exercise that caused me to sweat was more effective in lowering my BP than exercise that didn’t. With sweat-inducing exercise, my systolic BP was about 10 to 20 mm Hg lower than exercise that didn’t cause me to sweat. Sweating is a natural method the body uses to control body temperature. When your body starts to heat up, whether because of exercise or outside temperature, it releases sweat from the more than 2-4 million eccrine glands spread out across your skin, pouring liquid through pores to lower body temperature. Sweating induces a ‘diuretic’ effect by causing increased loss of salt, including sodium, and this lowers blood pressure[1]. For those who can afford it, having a sauna at home could be an easy way to get sweaty.

 

  1. Keep warm

I found that my BP was generally lower in warm weather (such as summer or being in a hot country) than in cold weather (such as winter or a cold country) independent of sweating. Numerous studies have found a correlation between temperature and blood pressure, and have also generally shown higher blood pressure during winter. The explanation is that cold weather activates both the sympathetic nervous system and the renin–angiotensin-aldosterone system. Warm weather does the reverse as well as inducing sweating[1]. Therefore, following the sun when booking holidays can therefore be a good way to manage your hypertension.

 

  1. Lose weight

Weight is important if you want to say ‘goodbye’ to your antihypertensive pills. Studies have shown that by losing 5 kg (8.8 pounds), your systolic and diastolic blood pressure can drop by 4.5-3.2 mm Hg respectively[3]. If you have mild high blood pressure, weight loss alone can be sufficient to control it. Weight loss improves blood pressure, although exercise has a greater impact. This is the reverse of what I found for type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is affected more by weight loss than by exercise. In my case, I estimate that my BP was treated 80% by exercise and 20% by weight loss and my diabetes 80% by weight loss and 20% by exercise.

 

In conclusion, by combining regular exercise with being physically active throughout the day, doing something what makes you sweat, keeping warm and losing some weight, you can prevent or reverse hypertension. In this article, I decided to focus on my experience. But it’s important to note that there are other ways which, although they didn’t work for me, could work for other people. These include salt restriction, healthy diet, quitting smoking, moderating alcohol intake and managing stress.

One of my self-experiments was to find out the effect of altitude on my BP. It’s well known that the higher you climb, the higher the BP. However, I found that the effect of exercise and sweating was so strong that it completely overrode any effect of altitude on my BP.

These are just a few of the lessons I have learnt self-experimenting which helped me reverse both hypertension and type 2 diabetes. After hesitating for several years, I finally decided to put my experience in writing because I felt it could help many people, or at least the methods I used could be applied by anyone to find out what works for them. I have written down all my lessons in a book No Pills, No Needles which is coming out in May 2021.

 

[1] Rosenthal T. Seasonal variations in blood pressure. American Journal of Geriatric Cardiology 2004; 13(5): 267–272.

[2] Nystoriak MA, Bhatnagar A. Cardiovascular effects and benefits of exercise. Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine 2018; 5: 135.

[3] Fortenberry K, Ricks J, Kovach FE. How much does weight loss affect hypertension? Journal of Family Practice 2013; 62(5): 258–259.

 

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Mary Jordan reviews ‘When the Time Comes’

Book review by Mary Jordan, author of ‘The Essential Carer’s Guide’ and ‘The Essential Carer’s Guide to Dementia’, of ‘When the Time Comes: Stories from the end of life‘ by Dr Magnolia Cardona and Nurse Ebony Lewis. 

This is a very thought-provoking book. It is a collection of short stories about actual experiences of dying and end of life care. Because each story is told by a different individual we hear from many viewpoints and cultures but the emotion which comes most often to mind is the general feeling of dissatisfaction experienced with standard medical attention at end of life.

Mostly the people relating these accounts to do not blame those medical professionals concerned at the end of these lives. But they do wish generally that things could be managed better. One of the problems in our civilisation is that hospitals and doctors are not seen as helping to make death a more comfortable experience. Doctors and hospitals are concerned with curing illness and bringing people back to health and this means that many of us at end of life get carried along by the medical path that is concerned with ‘trying one more treatment’ or tackling one more crisis. For example, we are told about a patient who is ‘ready to go’ but who continues to ‘endure the efforts of a health system determined to do all they can to keep him here’.

What we seldom have at this stage is the time to take a step back and consider the options.

Ideally this thinking would be done before the crisis arises and indeed this book advocates thinking ahead and giving time to planning our own end of life as well as helping our loved ones to do the same. Each account in the book ends with a few questions which can form the basis of considering end of life, looking at many different practical and ethical points.

I would perhaps like to have seen a little more room given in the stories to people who are not yet ‘ready to go’ and who do want every effort to be made to keep them in this life but over all that is not what the book is meant to be about. The points about having a good quality end of life experience and about communicating your wishes in this respect to those around us are very well made.

This is a book well worth reading and using as a discussion focus with those you love best.