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The Bowel Cancer Recovery Toolkit published in Chinese – a first for Hammersmith Health Books

Blog post written by Sarah Russell, author of The Bowel Cancer Recovery Toolkit.

Over a decade has passed since I had my own stoma surgery. And if someone had told me that 10 years later I would have a book translated into Chinese and I would be training ostomy nurses in China on Zoom, I would never have believed them.

Life really does take an incredible path sometimes. Here’s the timeline of how I went from ‘patient’ to ‘global expert’…

11 years ago

I went through abdominal surgery to remove my bowel and have a stoma formed, after suffering a life-threatening bowel perforation. I would need to use a colostomy bag fo

r the rest of my life. In most cases stoma surgery is life saving and life changing, and that was certainly true for me. I underwent 5 major operations over 18 months and it would be fair to say it was a difficult time. I had 2 young children and was a competitive athlete at the time. The surgeries floored me and I remember wondering if I would ever be able to go cycling or running ever again.

Lying frail in my hospital bed I asked about exercise, abdominal rehabilitation and whether I could run and do sports again now I had a stoma. My questions went unanswered. Nobody seemed to know what to do.

9 years ago

I managed to rehabilitate myself, get fit, retrain my abdominal muscles and return to running, cycling and the life I loved. To date I’ve completed 37 marathons and have just run a 50 mile ultra-marathon in the UK.

But in doing so realised there was a huge gap in patient support, nurse/surgeon education and knowledge about rehabilitation and exercise after stoma surgery. Despite my best efforts this hasn’t changed much, and we are still very much scratching the surface.

 

6 years ago

I started working with ConvaTec as their global exercise specialist and through our research in the UK, found that people who had their stoma due to cancer were reluctant to return to exercise and had very low levels of physical activity. I then trained in cancer rehabilitation to add to my MSc in sport/exercise science and 20 years of fitness rehabilitation qualifications.

 

4 years ago

I was working with a colorectal cancer patient (who was a keen runner and triathlete) and wanted to find an inspiring book for her to read about returning to exercise. I looked and couldn’t find one. So thought ‘Oh I’ll write a book then. That won’t be too hard’.

I contacted Hammersmith Health Books who took it on without a moments hesitation and then patiently waited whilst I wrote and re-wrote the book. It turned out writing a book is quite hard.

 

2 years ago (in 2019)

The Bowel Cancer Recovery Toolkit was finally published.

Let me tell you, if you’ve never published a book, it’s a terrifying process. Waiting for the first reviews on Amazon is utterly nerve wracking.

I hoped that people would find it comforting, useful and helpful. Which thankfully they have. Not only that but nurses and doctors have given it rave reviews and recommend it to their patients. That’s all I wanted and it makes me really happy to be able to help others. Read the reviews here.

During this time I continued to work with ConvaTec as a consultant and we developed an innovative nurse training course and the me+recovery training programme for patients.

For the first time patients could access professional advice on rehabilitation after stoma surgery and nurses could attend an RCN accredited (the only one of it’s kind in the world) course to teach them about abdominal exercises and safe activity for their patients. To date we’ve trained 350 UK nurses and many more around the world.

 

And so now today..

My book has just been translated and published in Chinese (a first for Hammersmith Health Books). I honestly find this mind blowing, but probably unsurprising. As it’s clearly something that’s desperately needed.

Each year there are around 380,000 people diagnosed with colorectal cancer in China (with a population of 1.3 billion) and cases are rising quickly in people under the age of 30.  It’s not a dissimilar picture in the UK, with around 45,000 cases each year and a sharp increase in younger people being diagnosed.

Even since publication of my book, the role of exercise in bowel cancer is becoming more and more important. Evidence is building to show that physical activity has a huge part to play in both prevention of cancer in the first place, but also in the role of recurrence. We now know that being physically active could reduce the risk of developing cancer (and it recurring) by around 30%.

If there was a pill that could offer the same thing, everyone would have it prescribed as a miracle treatment.

The exact mechanism as to why exercise is so effective isn’t yet fully understood, but it’s thought the anti-inflammatory effects of exercise combined with faster transit time through the bowel are the key physiological factors.

Having worked with thousands of patients, healthcare professionals and nurses over the last 6-8 years, I’m now hugely passionate about exercise and movement at all stages of bowel cancer prevention and diagnosis:

  • As part of a healthy lifestyle to reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer
  • As ‘pre-hab’ – getting fit for surgery
  • As rehab – after surgery – aiding recovery and reducing risk of parastomal/incisional hernia
  • As part of a healthy lifestyle AFTER a diagnosis of bowel cancer – improving mental wellbeing, confidence, physical strength and lowering risk of recurrence
  • For people with terminal bowel cancer, potentially prolonging life and helping with symptom control

All of this is covered in the book, along with advice on diet after surgery and specific abdominal exercises after stoma surgery.

Of course each person will interpret the advice and information differently, exactly as they should. But the ethos of the book is for each individual to focus on their own recovery and develop the confidence to exercise safely in their ‘post cancer body’ regardless of wherever they live in the world and wherever they are on their cancer recovery journey.

 

And finally…

The most recent part of this story (and it’s certainly not over yet) is the most incredible and ambitious project put together by ConvaTec to deliver the me+recovery training programme to a global audience.

In August 2021, we delivered online training (via Zoom) for stoma nurses in China, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and South Africa – all at the same time.

It comprised 4 x 3 hour sessions to a group of 60 nurses with simultaneous translation into Chinese and Japanese. With me sat at home in my little studio in East Sussex. And due to the time differences, some of the nurses were up in the middle of the night. That’s commitment.

It was incredible. The cultural differences and the clinical approaches were fascinating and so very different. But the outcome was that every single nurse involved wanted to do better for their patients. They wanted to learn how to help them rebuild their confidence, return to exercise and know how to do safe abdominal exercises after their surgery.

I didn’t think it could work.  But it did. I’ve never experienced anything like it and it was an honour to be part of it.

In the book I write ‘My goal in writing this book is to try and help people, and to support, educate and encourage, and to start to change understanding and practice’.

And thanks to both ConvaTec and Hammersmith Health Books, that’s starting to become a reality.

Little by little we can start to change clinical practice around the world, give people better advice and enable people who receive a bowel cancer diagnosis to recover with confidence and live their best life.

 

For more information about me+recovery from ConvaTec Your home of stoma care advice, support and lifestyle tips. (convatec.co.uk)

For more information about my private practice www.sarah-russell.co.uk and my clinical Pilates www.theostomystudio.co.uk

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Raising awareness of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) for PCOS Awareness Month

Blog post written by Rohini Bajekal, co-author of upcoming release ‘Living PCOS Free’, launching in February 2022.

This September is PCOS Awareness Month. Despite PCOS being the most common endocrine condition to affect women of reproductive age and those AFAB (assigned female at birth), with at least 1 in 10 affected, most people have never heard of it. Depending on how hard one looks for the condition, up to 3 in 4 of those with PCOS remain undiagnosed.

PCOS is the number one cause of anovulatory infertility and those with the condition are at greater risk of a number of long-term conditions, including type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and endometrial cancer.

PCOS is a chronic condition so, while there is no “cure”, making positive lifestyle changes can go a long way in managing PCOS and its symptoms, including insulin resistance, both in the short-term and longer term. Lifestyle modifications can tackle the underlying insulin resistance. All national and international guidelines recommend lifestyle and behavioural changes as the first line of management for PCOS, even before medications.

Knowledge is power and education is key. Raising awareness of what to look out for allows those with PCOS to access early help, support and advice. This may be through campaigns such as PCOS awareness month, workshops and education in schools or even by opening up the conversation between friends, family and colleagues.

Living PCOS Free is a practical guide which shows readers how to manage PCOS using proven lifestyle approaches alongside conventional medicine. Dr Nitu Bajekal, AKA ‘The Plant Based Gynae,’ dispels misinformation and tackles irregular periods, infertility, acne, weight gain and more.

For the diagnosis of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, any two out of three of the criteria below have to be met (Rotterdam criteria, 2003).

  • Ovulatory dysfunction (oligo- or anovulation: not producing eggs on a regular basis)
  • Clinical symptoms or biochemical (lab) evidence of androgen excess: (Increased levels of androgens including testosterone)
  • Polycystic ovarian appearance in one or both ovaries on pelvic ultrasound scan (specific features such as number of follicles, volume of ovary)

There are some common symptoms of PCOS, but it is important to mention that not everyone with the condition will have all the symptoms and vice versa (these symptoms may have other causes) so it is important to get a proper diagnosis:

  • Infrequent periods or missed periods are the most common sign of PCOS (oligomenorrhoea/amenorrhoea). NB: Pain is not a feature of PCOS. Painful and/or heavy periods or painful sex may be signs of endometriosis, fibroids and/or adenomyosis, all of which can affect fertility. Missed or infrequent periods could be a result of other conditions such as hypothalamic amenorrhoea resulting from calorie restriction (disordered eating, for example, or over-exercising).
  • Excess facial/body hair (hirsutism)
  • Acne (often adult and/or cystic)
  • Scalp hair loss (alopecia)
  • Unwanted weight gain
  • Insulin resistance
  • Fertility problems

There are several less well-known symptoms including:

  • Eating disorders, especially binge eating disorders without purging, unlike bulimia. (This may be missed, especially in those from different ethnic groups or those with excess weight. Referral to a therapist, dietitian specialising in medical nutrition therapy or another specialist, such as an endocrinologist or dermatologist, may be needed.)
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness
  • Breathing problems (sleep apnoea, snoring)
  • Acanthosis nigricans (darkened skin: behind the neck, underarms, groin).
  • Psychological issues such as depression and anxiety, which must be addressed.

 

Lifestyle matters and nutrition is the cornerstone

A plant-predominant dietary pattern

Given the commonality of PCOS among those with type 2 diabetes, and the higher risk of other serious health conditions, people with PCOS should be advised to focus on predominantly whole plant foods, including whole grains, beans, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, herbs and spices. These foods are full of fibre and micronutrients that are nourishing and absorbed slowly, helping to normalise blood sugars. We know this works very well in people with type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Living PCOS Free is packed with tasty and nutritious plant-based recipes with gluten-free and oil-free options.

Exercise

Regular movement in a form that you enjoy is key. Aerobic exercise and resistance training, including high intensity interval training (HIIT) are all recommended to help improve insulin sensitivity in women with PCOS. Aim for 300 minutes of exercise per week (approximately one hour a day) and try to exercise outdoors in natural light.

Sleep

Ensure a regular sleep routine with seven to nine hours of restorative sleep.

Stress management and reduction

Consider exercise, meditation, mindfulness, community work, psychotherapy or yoga to help manage stress and lower cortisol levels which make insulin resistance worse.

Positive social connections

Build or join a community, whether online or offline; ensure you have a support network or a friend you can trust and confide in. Loneliness is a source of chronic stress and is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

Avoid or limit risky substances

Eliminate risky substances such as drugs and tobacco and limit alcohol (people with PCOS are at higher risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease), which has no health benefits.

Living PCOS Free features an easy-to-follow 21-day plan by Nutritionist Rohini Bajekal, illuminating case histories and plant-based recipes.

https://nitubajekal.com/pcos/

https://nitubajekal.com/pcos-nutrition/

 

Dr Nitu Bajekal MD FRCOG Dip IBLM

Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist

Lifestyle Medicine Physician

 

Rohini Bajekal Nutritionist and Lifestyle Medicine Professional

 

About the authors

Dr Nitu Bajekal, MD is a Senior NHS Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist in the UK with over 35 years of clinical experience in women’s health. Her special interests include Lifestyle Medicine, PCOS, endometriosis, period problems, menopause, precancer, complex vulval problems and medical education. She is a keyhole surgeon with experience in laparoscopic procedures, including robotics.

Rohini Bajekal MA Oxon, MSc Nutrition, Dip IBLM, is a Nutritionist and Board-Certified Lifestyle Medicine Professional based in London. Rohini is passionate about PCOS and has personal experience of living with this condition.

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Dr Raymond Perrin’s Voyage of Discovery

Blog post written by Dr Raymond Perrin, author of The Perrin Technique 2nd Edition and The Concise Perrin Technique.

 

The background to The Perrin Technique

In 1989 a cyclist came into my clinic complaining of back pain. He also told me that he had been suffering with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) for 7 years and had been out of cycling for all of that time. I explained to him that, as an osteopath, I could help his back problems but couldn’t do much for his ME/chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), which in those days was also known by the terribly derogatory name of ‘yuppie flu’. We were trained to believe that ME was very much a psychological disorder and that, with tender loving care and more exercise and time out of the office, the young upwardly mobile professionals so often affected would return to their healthy former selves. How wrong we were!

With treatment to the cyclist’s postural problems, his back pain diminished but amazingly so too did his ME symptoms and within a few months he was totally symptom free and able to return to his beloved bicycle.

 

The Perrin Technique: The theory

After helping this patient, I embarked on over three decades of clinical research into ME/CFS, including a doctoral thesis into the cause and treatment of this disorder that continues to baffle most clinicians, scientists and patients. In the early days of my research, I came up with a theory that formed the basis of my PhD thesis and my first book, The Perrin Technique, published by Hammersmith Press in 2007; this theory was that ME/CFS was due to a physical disturbance of the lymphatic drainage of the brain and spinal cord. This, I hypothesised, led to a build-up of toxins within the central nervous system, leading  to a disturbed autonomic nervous system (the nerves that control automatic functions of the body such as blood flow, the heart and gut function).

At the time, my theory that this autonomic dysfunction caused a reversal of lymphatic flow from the brain and spine, leading to toxic overload of the brain, went completely against medical and scientific thinking, as according to all the main authorities there was no lymphatic drainage of the central nervous system to go wrong in the first place. It was recognised that we had the lymphatic system to take away larger molecules that could not drain directly into the blood, but this was deemed unnecessary in the brain as the there was a natural protection, known as the ‘blood-brain barrier’, that stops large particles entering the brain, and so blood vessels in the brain were thought to be sufficient to flush any small particles away. We know very differently now!

 

The Perrin Technique: The facts

Join me in my voyage of discovery in The Perrin Technique 2nd Edition in which I describe how scientific breakthroughs over the past 14 years have  finally caught up with my original theory; we now have irrefutable proof of the existence of the lymphatic drainage of the brain (AKA the ‘glymphatic system’) and masses of evidence showing how  this drainage can be disturbed by a combination of physical, emotional, immunological and/or environmental stressors, leading to ME/CFS and fibromyalgia (FMS), and how a reversal of neuro-lymphatic  drainage can lead to physical diagnostic signs. In my 2nd Edition I include many references to the supporting scientific papers and to my own published research.

The Perrin Technique 2nd Edition also explains why every patient with ME/CFS or FMS is different and detail over 100 symptoms with an explanation of why patients suffer from each of these, such as :

Hyperosmia (changed sensitivity to smell): This is a common symptom of ME/CFS and FMS. The olfactory pathway is one of the main neuro-lymphatic drainage points in the cranium. The increased neurotoxicity and/or inflammation in this region will result in irritation of olfactory nerves leading to a heightened sensitivity to smell in some patients, with others finding a lessening of their senses and in some a total loss of smell and taste (see anosmia).

In addition, I discuss many other conditions that can occur together with ME/CFS and FMS and consider other therapies that may be of benefit together with The Perrin Technique as part of the jigsaw-puzzle of recovery.

 

Two Perrin Technique books

With the publication of The Concise Perrin Technique this month (August 2021) there will be two up-to-date books describing how to reverse problems with neuro-lymphatic drainage using manual techniques. The core of both books is a comprehensive game plan for helping patients return to health plus a step-by-step guide for manual practitioners to carry out the required treatment. Both books also answer many practical frequently-asked questions such as: What are the dos and don’ts for patients with ME/CFS and FMS?

However, I am acutely aware that ME/CFS and FMS can badly affect the cognitive ability of sufferers and that many of my patients find reading and comprehension difficult or impossible tasks, especially when it comes to long texts. Consequently, I have written The Concise Perrin Technique as a short, more focused guide to the Perrin Technique aimed specifically at patients who simply want to know the key facts about ME/CFS and FMS, how to diagnose these conditions and how to treat the underlying problem, without using scientific and medical language and long explanations.

Both The Perrin Technique 2nd Edition and the new The Concise Perrin Technique show how successfully to beat ME/CFS, FMS and other similar, emerging conditions, including Long-COVID. Correcting neuro-lymphatic drainage may also help many other neurological disorders – further research is underway.

If you wish to comprehend the underlying science and gain an in depth understanding of issues related to ME/CFS and FMS, then The Perrin Technique 2nd Edition is waiting to be read; if you want just the basics of the Perrin Technique and how to put these into practice, then The Concise Perrin Technique is for you.

 

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Young people and the importance of healthy eating  

Blog post written by Hanna Purdy, author of ‘Could it be Insulin Resistance?’

Insulin resistance and its corresponding effects, such as obesity, are alarmingly common issues in young people. In addition to excess weight, it is less commonly known and acknowledged that the effects of insulin resistance can also manifest as depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. This is due to the interconnection between the enteric nervous system, a collection of millions of nerve cells lining the gastrointestinal tract, and the central nervous system. This gut-brain axis means that our diet has a substantial influence over our moods. Therefore an unbalanced gut microbiome, hormonal imbalance and chronic inflammation, which are all effects of an unhealthy diet, go hand in hand with insulin resistance and negatively influence our mental as well as physical health. These effects are highly damaging to developing children and young people.

 

What is insulin resistance?

To briefly outline this concept, insulin resistance is where our cells are not responding to the effects of insulin in the way they should. The main cause of this is the overconsumption of sugary and starchy foods, as well as eating too frequently (e.g. snacking throughout the day). As a result, too much insulin is produced in the body, a hormonal problem also known as metabolic syndrome. A diet consisting of an excess of sugar and starch and a lack of integral micronutrients can also have an adverse effect on the good bacteria in our gut, causing abdominal problems such as IBS as well as mental issues such as depression. An excess of insulin and a deficiency of good bacteria can affect other hormones in the body, causing problems such as early puberty, acne and PCOS.

Children and young people are especially vulnerable to the consequences of insulin resistance, and therefore it is vital that parents are educated as to its cause and effects, as well as how to reverse it.

 

Educate your young people on insulin resistance

A common misconception held by both adolescents and adults is that you need to eat less to lose weight. It is important to understand that weight loss does not work that way, and under-eating can only do harm. It is essential for children and young people to eat the necessary nutrients (e.g. proteins, healthy fats) and the right amount of food to fuel their bodies. Excess weight is the result of too much insulin in the body, not too many calories, and exercising more does not solve this problem either. We also need to have an understanding of the micronutrients we get from our food, and why they are needed.

Education is one of the most important things if you want to bring about a lifestyle change, as cutting out sugar and starchy carbohydrates may be challenging. Educating your children and young people is very advantageous, as building an understanding of the topic of insulin resistance and healthy eating could motivate them to opt for healthier foods themselves. The WHY is very important. Simply making them eat more healthily “just because” will not help create long-term changes.

 

Learn to cook a wide variety of tasty and healthy meals

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about healthy meals is salad. It might be worth reminding young people that healthy meals can actually be delicious and tastier than fast food when cooked right. You can eat all your favourite foods if you just make them yourself, from good ingredients. A fun way to get creative is to make alternatives to your favourite junk foods and desserts. There are many websites online that provide delicious recipes for you to follow and tweak to your liking (and there are some in my book Could it be Insulin Resistance? also). Personally, I find that the healthier alternatives taste better and they make you feel great. Here’s an example recipe from my book:

Chilli con carne

For 4 people

Ingredients:

  • olive oil
  • 500g beef mince
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 red pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 yellow pepper, finely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped, or grated
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1-2 tsp chilli powder
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • sour cream
  • grated cheddar cheese for serving

Method:

  1. Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a pan
  2. Add the mince and cook until it is brown
  3. When the meat is nearly cooked, add the onion and peppers and continue cooking for another 5 minutes
  4. Add the garlic, tomatoes, tomato purée and all the spices, including salt and pepper, according to your taste
  5. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Serve with grated cheese and a spoonful of sour cream on top as well as a green salad

 

Replace fizzy drinks with water, kombucha and herbal tea

Soft drinks such as Coke or Pepsi can be very addictive. Kombucha is a great alternative. Not only is it pleasing for the taste buds, but it also provides probiotics, which are essential for gut health. If you can’t obtain kombucha, then herbal tea with some honey should suffice.

Now, if you think that replacing sodas with diet sodas is better, you have been misinformed. There are many articles on the Internet that provide valuable insight on the subject, but in short, diet sodas are very harmful to the body, containing artificial sweeteners as they do. Don’t forget, fresh water is always the best alternative for hydration.

 

Please read my book,Could it be Insulin Resistance?’, for more information on this topic.

 

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A sneak preview from upcoming release ‘Green Mother’

We have something a little different but equally as visually stimulating for you on our blog. A sneak preview of some beautiful illustrations from upcoming release ‘Green Mother’ by Dr Sarah Myhill and Michelle McCullagh with Craig Robinson. Launching later this year.

A family watering the garden
A mother breastfeeding
Children splashing in a puddle
A child splashing
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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

 

Posted on

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.