Jo's Health News Blog 2012 Print E-mail

New blog address!

I've sent up a new  fancy blog on Wordpress if you want to take a look by clicking straight through here

Leaving my archive here though if you'd like to read on.........

October 23 2012



What long term health problems do cancer survivors face?

This week I've been writing about a tricky subject that isn't discussed and doesn't get much media coverage: long term cancer survivorship. There are currently two million cancer survivors in the UK and this is set to rise to four million by 2040 thanks to earlier diagnosis and improvements in treatments.

But what happens to those cancer survivors once their treatment has finished? Do they have ongoing health problems that are not being treated?Are they falling through the net?

Every cancer patient is grateful to survive cancer of course - and most have nothing but praise for their doctors and the care they have received. But new research is increasingly revealing that cancer survivors can face another set of health problems after their treatment has finished - and sometimes unfortunately these can be overlooked. It's a new area of medicine  which is going to be getting a lot more attention over the coming years as the the long term health needs of cancer survivors put more pressure on the NHS.

Take prostate cancer survivors for instance - experts estimate there are now 250,000  of them in the UK - and large numbers may be at risk of the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis.This is because  many have hormone treatments to suppress the hormone testosterone or have an operation to remove their testicles which has a similar effect. An Oxford University study published last year has suggested all men who have had prostate cancer be screened for osteoporosis because the risks of developing the disease are significant.

Then there are the 8,000 men and women a year diagnosed with pelvic radiation disease as a direct result of their radiotherapy treatments for bowel, bladder, prostate and gynaecological cancers. These patients have been left with  distressing long term health problems including incontinence and bowel problems and need ongoing treatment.

Last week the charity Macmillan Cancer Support warned the NHS could be bankrupted by the cost of treatments needed to treat survivors of  cancer.

You can read  my article about cancer survivorship in today's Daily Mail Good Health section Breast cancer survivor Marie Constantas reveals how her heart problems may be a result of her radiotherapy treatments and Dr John Verrier Jones talks about how he developed osteoporosis about treatments for prostate cancer.

Psychologist Dr Frances Goodhart reveals that cancer patients don't like to mention these ongoing health problems because they fear they will be seen as ungrateful and others are  just too embarrassed to talk about issues such as incontinence or sexual disorders caused by their treatment.

If you're a cancer survivor and want to find out more about these issues - check out the National Cancer Survivorship Initiative and the Pelvic Radiation Disease Society


Are you just stressed  or are your symptoms down to a medical condition?

Stress often poses a chicken-and-egg dilemma: does stress cause the symptoms or do you develop stress symptoms as a result of a an underlying medical condition? It's a tricky one and can be  frustrating for patients who are told they are just stressed when they know they are in real physical pain. Patients with chronic back pain for instance would argue they are stressed because of their pain levels, rather than stress causing their back pain. They can be  left feeling fobbed off and ignored and often face a frustrating wait to get a true diagnosis.

This is what happened to Victoria Saxton, who began suffering excruciating migraines while studying at Cambridge University (read her story in today's Daily Mail Victoria was told her migraines were stress-related - but she grew increasingly frustrated with this label - as she noticed she could get migraines on holiday and other completely non-stressful situations. At one stage she was even prescribed Prozac for her stress and anxiety - but the drugs made absolutely no difference to the frequency or severity of her migraine attacks.In fact - although migraines can be triggered by stress - it does so only in about 10 per cent of cases. Other common but less well known triggers for migraines include dehydration, skipping meals, disruption to sleep pattern and even poor posture.

Victoria saw countless doctors over the course of 12 years - but all the drugs and treatment were about treating her migraine symptoms rather than addressing the underlying cause. In the end it was a physiotherapist who suggested that her migraines may have been triggered by undiagnosed injuries to her neck sustained in a car crash back when Victoria was taking her 'A' levels. She is now being seen by experts at the National Migraine Centre and at last her symptoms are being brought under control - and she is learning that lifestyle changes  such as making sure she eats and drinks regularly and gets enough sleep can help prevent attacks.

But it's not just doctors who are to blame. Some patients dismiss their symptoms as stress too and  to be fair iit's easy to see how doctors can be thrown off the scent of what is really wrong. Jade Smith - another patient I've interviewed for the piece above - admits she put all her symptoms down to stress - even though she was in constant pain from head to toe. The problem was  that she was going through a stressful time at work so stress seemed to be the obvious cause of all her ills. Later though when her symptoms of depression lifted she was still left in pain. When she mentioned it to her doctor he diagnosed fibromyalgia.

Stress is clearly a difficult area for patients and  doctors - but experts I interviewed for the article said that the key to avoiding this is the doctor taking a full medical history including  a description of all symptoms and for patients to tell the doctor about their symptoms however unrelated they may seem.  Easier said than done in a 10 minute appointment - but both sides should try and remember this - it might save a lot of anguish.

October 2 2012

I first came across  cancer campaigner Rose Woodward four and a half  years ago when  I began writing about a growing number of kidney cancer patients who were being denied life extending drugs.

Kidney cancer patients previously had a very poor outlook - there were no effective treatments available and all they could be offered was interferon - which made little difference to their outcome. But everything was changing fast - new drugs were becoming available that could extend life for months and even years in some cases without destroying quality of life. Understandably people in the UK wanted access to them. Yes, they were terminally ill - but they wanted more time with their families. Jane, a  grandmother I interviewed at the time  for Yours magazine spoke movingly about how the drug had given her extra years to get to know her grand child Grace. Unfortunately Jane did eventually die - but by that stage Grace had memories of her - something that was a great comfort to Jane. How can you put a price on that?

At the time though these drugs were hard to access - mostly only available on drug trials or privately at the cost of thousands a month. They were expensive for the NHS and  whether you got them or not was really a postcode lottery and it all seemed desperately unfair.

But Rose Woodward - a kidney cancer survivor from Cornwall  in her late fifties at the time, was having none of it. She'd been researching all the new treatments and started to help patients fight cases for exceptional funding at primary care trust panels. Despite having no legal training she found she was a good advocate and started winning the cases on behalf of patients who were often too ill to speak up for themselves. She wasn't always popular with health service bureaucrats and sometimes banned from hearings - but patients kept coming to her for help. Many of them had nowhere else to turn.

As her success grew - oncologists from all over the country began putting patients in touch with Rose - they could see she was winning and could give their patients hope. With a colleague - Julia Black - a breast cancer survivor she'd  got in touch with after hearing her speak on a radio phone-in - she travelled all over the country to speak up for the sick and took countless anguished phone calls , regularly working until 2am to prepare legal arguments.

Later the  government introduced the Cancer Drugs Fund to allow patients fast-track access to new life extending treatments - thousands of patients have benefited from the fund in the past two years and the situation has vastly improved since the dark days of 2008. But sadly Rose is still fighting for some patients who still  have to jump through hoops at local trust level before they are permitted to apply to the Fund. Rose is still taking their calls and showing them how to draft legal arguments - tirelessly  campaigning for  fairness or 'rattling cages' as she puts it.

You can read all about Rose's battle to stand up for cancer patients in today's Daily Mail Good Health section  here

Rose has been nominated for the Daily Mail's Women of Achievement Awards for her campaigning and advocacy work. She'll hate the limelight and fuss - but I think the British public owe her a big thank you for all the hours and hours of unpaid hours of work she's put in on behalf of cancer patients who are still fighting for the right to stay alive. She has helped over 250 patients win their appeals and given them precious extra time they deserve. We'd all want the same for our families should the worst happen - and knowing Rose is out there doing her bit - means we can all rest a bit easier.



September 18 2012,

It's not often  you meet someone as special and inspiring as chef Shirley Moore.  I spent a busy morning with her last Wednesday -  trying to keep up with her on her rounds at the the Royal Marsden Children's Cancer Centre. She's the  catering supervisor - but as far as I'm concerned she's just as important as the chief oncologist! Pretty sure she never has an off day and is just the person you need in a crisis. Yes, medicine is vital in fighting cancer - but coaxing children who have been through gruelling chemotherapy to eat again  is I would argue - nearly as important.

Many of the children at the Marsden's Oak Centre for Children and Young People are recovering from  chemotherapy treatment for leukaemia and or bone/ marrow transplants. The treatment often affects their taste buds and they can either  have crazy food cravings or just simply not fancy eating at all.

Like all the best chefs though, Shirley can cook to order anything her guests fancy - but she regularly goes the extra mile - popping out to the shops on a bus to buy anything extra she doesn't have in her NHS kitchen, rustling up Brussels sprouts six times a day for a boy who had cravings for them and whipping up knickerbocker glories just to get kids eating again.  She works a six day week and only takes one week's holiday a year. Read all about here in the Daily Mail Good Health section

One couple who lost their son to leukaemia in 2009 have even named their 18 month old daughter Amelia Shirley in Shirley's honour .Others have offered to build her a granny flat  in their gardens so she can stay close to their children after they've left the hospital.

Shirley has been nominated in the Daily Mail's Women of Achievement Awards  - here's hoping she wins. And come to think about it lets hear it for all the Shirleys who work ' backstage' doing amazing things.

September 4  2012,

Back to work after a summer break - please excuse my lack of postings in August - I wasn't on holiday for all of it though (I'm self employed remember?). I was busy finishing a book and writing newspaper articles, as well as chilling out in Turkey.

Today you can read my latest article about new enhanced recovery techniques which help patients recover quicker from operations. No need for that new dressing gown or big suitcase these days when you're checking into hospital  because chances are you'll be out in 24 hours - even for major operations including hysterectomies. Here's the link if you want to find out more

Last week I also had an article published about major complications of Crohn's disease and how they can result in some very unusual  doctor's orders about diet. When Justin Hansen was told his gut condition meant he'd have to follow a severely restricted diet for the rest of his life he was devastated. But then he learned exactly how it would be restricted. Burgers, chips,chocolate, full fat milk,sausage rolls, cakes and biscuits were apparently now all  ideal foods for him - but " healthy" high fibre foods and vegetables were bad. This was because he had to have so much of his intestine removed due to Crohn's disease that only half of the nutrients in food he ate would be absorbed. This meant he had to eat 50 per cent more - around 5,000 calories a day to stay alive. The best way to do this is to eat a high calorie but low volume diet and junk foods are best because they are calorie dense and low in fibre.

A junk food diet may be some people's idea of Heaven - but Justin Hansen didn't even like burgers and chips and actually liked salads and fruit much more. He struggled to eat enough calories and after suffering more complications eventually ended up having a permanent intravenous nutrition line fitted. Justin hasn't let having daily IV nutrition stop him living an active life though and as well as studying for an MSc in occupational therapy he also now fundraises for research at St Mark's Hospital, Harrow - where he had most of his treatment. A charity kayaking trip he undertook raised over £20K for research into a grow-your-own bowel  technique the hospital is researching - a treatment that could potentially cure patients like Justin in future.You can read the article here


July 17 2012,


Had my head down writing a health book over the  last few weeks (can't tell you what its about just yet - but it's coming on nicely thanks!).

Also been finding out about how important it is to get your child's snoring sorted out - because of the dire effects it can have on their concentration and behaviour.

All kids snore to some  extent and it doesn't normally cause any problems, but if they also stop breathing momentarily in their sleep repeatedly several times an hour they can deprive the brain of oxygen and in the long term this may damage their IQ. Symptoms of this condition in children - known as sleep apnoea -  include loud snoring, daytime tiredness and sometimes hyperactivity too.  Your child may feel groggy when they wake and complain of a headache.

Research carried out at the Melbourne Sleep Centre found cognitive differences between sleep apnoea sufferers aged seven to 12 and a control group without sleep problems. They found prolonged sleep apnoea over several years affected a child's IQ and education, as well as being associated with behavioural problems and poor memory.

Luckily four year old Jack Redwood's sleep apnoea was picked up and diagnosed relatively early. His mum Carly noticed he was snoring loudly and stopping breathing in his sleep. Jack was also tired and groggy during the day.  Friends and family nicknamed him Darth Vader because of his heavy breathing during the day. It turned out his large tonsils and adenoids were to blame and  once these were removed he could breathe easy again. His snoring and daytime sleepiness have now stopped. You can read Jack's story in today's Daily Mail Good Health section

Find out more about sleep apnoea at the British Lung Foundation site or call 03000 030 555.


June  19 2012,

Rena Ramani has faced  a a 20 year battle to get her psoriasis symptoms under control. Enduring a daily agony she has sought to soothe her symptoms with coal tar preparations, emulsifying creams , moisturisers, gels  and steroid creams - spending up to four hours a day applying them.

Like an estimated 1.3 million other people in the UK Rena has psoriasis - an auto immune condition which causes red, ugly plaques of scaly skin to appear on the body. It causes itching and burning and the stress and discomfort of the disease has even driven some sufferers to suicide.

You can read Rena's story in today's Daily Mail Good Health section

Consultant dermatologist Dr Anthony Bewley also talks about  how "steroid phobia" where patients (and even some doctors and pharmacists) are scared-off steroid creams is now becoming a  problem in the UK. Yes,  he says steroid creams can thin the skin if not applied correctly or for too long a period of time, but prescribed under medical supervision and used in sufficient quantities to cover the affected area of skin (not surrounding areas) they are a highly effective treatment for mild to moderate psoriasis.

I've also been writing about a new skin  patch which experts believe may be able to  ease depressive symptoms and mood while you sleep. You can read about the patch in today's Daily Mail Good Health section

The eTNS patch from NeuroSigma works by stimulating the trigeminal nerve in the brain and has been shown in small trials to improve the symptoms of depression. Larger trials have been  conducted to see if the effects can be replicated and results are due to be published in a peer reviewed journal . It  may well be a useful addition to existing drug treatments and talking therapies use to treat depression.

Big thanks to the Migraine Trust, neurologists Professor Peter Goadsby and  Professor Leonie Ridsdale for lending their expertise to the Guild of Health Writers Migraine Masterclass last week. It was a fascinating evening will lots of  new insights to what is the most common headache people consult their GP about - with a wealth of new material for features and news stories for the writers who attended.

Migraine sufferer Vicky Saxton also gave a deeply moving account of what its like to suffer from persistent miigraines -  sometimes daily for years on end. Until hearing her speak I genuinely didn't realise how disabling the condition is. You can read more of Victoria's experiences at her highly entertaining and informative  blog





June 12 2012,

Why we've all get to get over ourselves.....

It's time we all got over our embarrassment about bowel movements -  sorry I'm guilty of it too - I mean piles. You may be sniggering  now believing they're a trivial problem  (a bowel cancer specialist told me that's a very  British trait) - but the truth is any persistent rectal bleeding needs checking out by your doctor. The chances are the bleeding is  just caused by piles - but unfortunately it can be down to bowel cancer too - which is why you shouldn't ignore it.

Linda Gunner did ignore blood in her stools  - and now bitterly regrets it. Read her story in today's Daily Mail Good Health section

Linda was eventually diagnosed with bowel cancer after suffering from what she thought was piles for a over a year. Her doctor had suggested further investigations but she'd been too embarrassed to go. She blames no-one but herself and wants others to learn from her mistake. And Linda's sentiments are by no means unusual - one bowel cancer specialist I spoke too says he constantly hears the same story from patients who end up referred to him: they'd had bleeding for years but just put it down to piles and done nothing about it.

Yes piles are a bit of a cringe - but bowel cancer can kill you if it's not diagnosed and treated early enough According to figures from National Cancer Intelligence Unit, if bowel cancer is detected at the earliest stage (known as Dukes A), the five year survival rate is 93 per cent, but this drops to only 6.6 per cent if the cancer is advanced and has spread.

Like I said  - it's clearly time we got over ourselves.

PS: Don't forget it's the Guild of Health Writers Migraine Master Class on June 14 - tickets still available from


June 5 2012,

Find out how having diabetes greatly increases your stroke risk in my article in today's Daily Mail Good Health section

Strokes among diabetics have reached record high levels - around 16,000 people with diabetes suffered a stroke in 2009/10 - a 59 per cent increase since 2006/7.

The dangers centre mainly around damage to the lining of blood vessels that diabetes can cause. Controlling blood pressure is vital - but a new survey by Diabetes UK has found that over half of the UK's 2.9 million diabetics have uncontrolled high blood pressure. The charity believe people with diabetes need a structured education programme to understand how serious the condition can be and what the risks of complications are.

Although there is now more emphasis on controlling blood pressure in diabetics - many patients  still fail to take their pills because of side effects and making lifestyle changes including losing weight, cutting down on salt and taking more exercise can also be difficult to achieve.

Adrian Scott,60,a broadcasting technology consultant from Somerset suffered a stroke at the wheel of his car in June 2009. He had been suffering from diabetes and had developed high blood pressure - but says he failed to realise how big a stroke risk this posed. Adrian survived his stroke but has been left with numbness on his entire left side and says he wishes he'd had the risk of stroke from high blood pressure drummed into him more.

Failing to realise the serious implications  of high blood pressure seems to be a common problem amongst diabetics; although many  seem to get the message about controlling their blood sugar - some still fail to take on board that high blood pressure associated with diabetes also puts them  at risk of stroke. Unfortunately - it can be a fatal mistake.

May 29 2012

Like the rest of the UK I'll be cheering Team GB athlete Dai Greene on in the London 2012 Olympic Games (albeit from the sofa  at home - I've only got tickets for handball for so far!!). Gold medal hopeful  Dai, the current 400m hurdles world champion has had to overcome more than hurdles on the track though. The 26 year old was diagnosed with epilepsy at 16 after suffering a seizure on the day after a New Year's Eve party.

You can read all about how his symptoms are being controlled without medication in my article in today's Daily Mail

Dai has chosen to live a strict sportsman's regime of early nights,no alcohol and regular routines and has been symptom-free since coming off his drugs in 2006, after identifying that disruptions to his sleep routine and alcohol ,were the main triggers for his attacks.

These days you won't find him out partying late at night but sitting at home on the sofa watching TV with his girlfriend Sian or walking his dog. He spends his days training on the track. A big night out for him is an evening at the cinema or a quiet dinner with friends. His clean living has paid off though as he hasn't had a another seizure since coming off his drugs and has athletics career has gone into  the mega-league since he started living the quiet life.

He is careful to stress though that drugs should always be the first line of treatment, not all people with epilepsy are able to come off their drugs and the decision should only be taken with the agreement of medical professionals. In other words DON'T just do this on your own.

Around 30 per cent of people with epilepsy can't control  their symptoms with drugs - and for them lifestyle changes can be a useful second line of defence.

Dai is now an ambassador for the charity Young Epilepsy and a great role model for the 112,000 young people under 25 who have the condition.

The influential Cochrane Review has also found that following a specific ketogenic high fat low protein and carbohydrate diet is as effective as drugs in children with uncontrolled epilepsy. Children eat a ratio of  up to 4:1 fat to protein and carbohydrate ,which in many cases can drastically reduce the number of seizures they are having and in some cases make them disappear completely.

Emma Williams  founder of the charity Matthew's Friends , which advises parents of epileptic children on diet treatments for epilepsy, says her son's Matthew's seizures decreased dramatically from over a hundred a week to just four or five. Matthew followed the ketogenic diet for six years and the 17 year old has now been weaned off it and still has  only a small number of seizures. Emma says the improvement in his quality of life has been 100 per cent.

Although an athlete like Dai  obviously cannot follow the ketogeniic diet as he has high carbohydrate needs  - with the supervision of ketogenic dieticians the diet is helping hundreds of children a year have fewer seizures and have a better quality of life.

May 8 2012

Read all about how Anne-Marie Culliney missed out on clot-busting drugs that could have  prevented her suffering brain damage after a stroke - all because she was taken ill on a Sunday in today's Daily Mail Good Health section

Anne-Marie collapsed with a stroke on a Sunday afternoon and despite being in hospital 30 minutes after her first symptoms she was not offered a CT scan  that day . The scan could have determined whether she could benefit from clot-busting drugs or not and prevented brain damage. Why wasn't she given one? It was a Sunday.

Clot-busting drugs have to be given within three hours of a stroke to be effective - so by the time Anne-Marie finally had her scan on Monday the window of opportunity had passed. She then suffered long term speech problems and had six months of physiotherapy to be able to recover feeling and co-ordination in her right hand and leg. All an uphill struggle - and one that could have been so easily avoided for Anne-Marie had she simply had the right drugs at the right time.

Unfortunately - although stroke care is improving in the UK - Anne-Marie's experience is not that unusual.According to the National Stroke Audit only 60 per cent of hospitals currently offer a 24 hour thrombolysis (clot-busting) service at weekends and after 5 pm on week days. This means if you suffer a stroke at the "wrong" time of day - your outcome could be very different than if you'd had  one in office hours.

We all like to think we'd get the best care should the worst happen - but it seems shocking that your survival could be down to something as basic as whether it's the weekend or after 5 pm when you have a stroke.Twenty four hour banking and supermarkets  have now now available for well over a decade -  isn't it time the NHS caught up and offered the same quality of care around the clock?



May 1 2012,

Almost 40,000  women a year die of heart disease in the the UK - three times more than breast cancer - but few realise they are at risk. Lack of awareness aside there is another problem though and that's that the symptoms of both heart disease and heart attacks can be different in women. Read my article in today's Daily Mail about how Coleen Gill waited two hours before going to hospital after suffering indigestion-type pains and eventually discovered she was having a heart attack.

New research from the US published in February based on the records of a million people found that only 30 per cent of women reported chest pain as a symptom  during their heart attacks compared to 42 per cent of men.

Cardiologist Dr Carl Shakespeare of the private Lister Hospital in London says there is growing recognition even the symptoms of heart disease can be different in women than men - with men more frequently reporting a tightness in their chest on exertion than women. Even when they do notice symptoms women are less likely to be diagnosed because they have a higher false positive rate than men on treadmill tests because they tend to be less fit. Women are also more likely to experience abnormalities in the smallest blood vessels while men tend to experience narrowing in the larger arteries. The latter is easier to detect with an angiogram - so men are more likely to get diagnosed and treated earlier.

Dr Shakespeare says it's also important to get the message across that you can be slim and fit and still at risk of a heart attack if you have other risk factors including a high fat diet,smoking, stress or a family history of early death from heart disease.This applies to both sexes but is more likely to be an issue for women as they are less likely to be overweight than men.

The good news is that a new piece of diagnostic equipment has been developed which could help detect signs of heart disease at an an earlier stage.The EndoPAT measures changes in the endothelial cells which line the blood vessels. It is fitted to the fingertips and takes less than 15 minutes to do a reading. Doctors think it will be particularly useful in diagnosing problems in women - who are more likely to have problems in the microvasculature than  in the arteries ( though of course they can  get both).

Coleen Gill though, is now urging all her female friends to get their risk factors checked  - she thought she wasn't at risk from heart disease because she was slim and fit. She turned out to be wrong.

  • For more information on women and heart disease please go to



April 17 2012

Sleep deprivation is torture of the worst kind and and doctors say insomniacs are often some of their most desperate patients. Sleeping pills can seem like a quick fix if you're in that situation and if used (and prescribed) responsibly they can be a useful short term solution for sleeplessness - but long term use it seems, can  not only lead to dependence but according to new research may also be  associated with a higher risk of death too.

Research published in the British Medical Journal Open in February this year found people taking sleeping pills had up to a five times higher risk of death. Even patients who were prescribed fewer than 18 pills a year had a threefold increased risk of death. No cause and effect has been established - just an association - but it's worth pondering if they really are worth the risk. You can read all about this research, how experts are interpreting it and how sleeping pills have affected Janet Marshall's physical health in my article in Daily Mail Good Health

April 10  2012,

Busy couple of weeks so please  excuse my  lack of posts in the last few weeks, been busy writing features for Daily Mail Good Health. Here are links to the latest two stories - which is all about how statins - although they undoubtedly save lives - can also cause cognitive problems in some cases and also a Q and A with the delightful Margaret Mountford - Lord Sugar's former right hand woman on BBC 1's The Apprentice. Margaret was exactly as she seems on TV no-nonsense and straight-talking - I thought she made a great interview and her down to earth attitude was really refreshing.

On March 29 the Guild of Health Writers held the Health Writing Awards evening at the Royal Society of Medicine which was a great success. You can read all about who won what on the Guild's web pages Over £10,000 in prize money was shared by some of the winning entrants - the competition was all about celebrating the achievements of dedicated and talented health writers and we hope it will inspire more writers to join the Guild.



February 28 2012,

You can read my latest articles in today's Daily Mail Good Health section. The first is on sepsis an infection which kills 37, 000 a year and the medical uses of botox

February 13 2012,

Last year I was lucky enough to go a press trip to South Africa and experience the excitement of   a safari game drive and see some Marula trees growing in the wild - they're one of nature's wonders and you can read all about them in my three page travel feature in the March  2012 issue of Spirit and Destiny magazine.

February 5 2012,

If you're recovering from some dreadful hard-to-shift chest infection and debating whether you need antibiotics - think seriously before asking for them. Antibiotics are life saving and the wonder drugs of the 20th century of course and they'll often do the trick when nothing else will - but they've also been over prescribed. This has led to the growing problems of drug  resistance but what is often overlooked is that antibiotics can also have unpleasant side effects -  and in rarer case these can be extremely serious.

Read my article in today's Daily Mail about tendon problems associated with the antibiotic ciprofloxacin. Judy Thomas suffered a painful Achilles tendon rupture and was horrified to find out it was a rare side effect of a course of antibiotics she'd been given for a chest infection - months later she is still on crutches and wondering why there wasn't a more prominent warning on the packaging.

Rebecca Robinson a hairdresser from Bristol says she is still suffering persistent lower leg pain and other unexplained symptoms five years after was prescribed five courses of ciprofloxacin for cystitis and a kidney infection in a 12 month period.After several brain scans and other investigations doctors can find no medical explanation for her symptoms - but Rebecca is convinced they are are linked to taking ciprofloxacin. Type in "cipro toxicity" on the internet and you'll find hundreds of other similar stories. In the US there is even a patient group called the Fluroquinolone Vigilance Foundation - which campaigns to highlight the side effects they claim are associated with these drugs - read more at - where many UK patient stories are listed too.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, the Uk's drug safety watchdog, received 2,269 'suspected' adverse reaction reports  associated with fluroquinolone antibiotics, including 67 deaths , since January 2000. This isn't a high number when you consider there are a million prescriptions for fluroquinolones in the UK every year - but it is widely accepted that only 10 per cent of adverse drug reactions are ever reported - so the true incidence is likely to be much higher. Even if these side effects are rare  though - surely it makes sense to put more emphasis on making patients more aware of the dangers?

Of course no one is saying antibiotics don't have their place (they can save your life for God's sake)  - but in those situations where it's a toss up between taking them and struggling on with an infection for a few days I think I'd rather wait and see if my body can fight it off. Not everyone has that choice of course  - but experts agree that we certainly shouldn't be popping antibiotics like vitamin pills.Antibiotics are powerful drugs which should be reserved for serious illnesses and their flip side is that they can have powerful adverse side  effects too.

January 27 2012,

Had a really good day today running a workshop on pitching to journalists for CharityComms. In these days of email and even Twitter  pitches I was urging them not to be afraid to pick up the phone and try to build relationships with journalists. Emails save time but sometimes a short phone call can jog a journalist's memory and prompt them to make a decision rather than leaving a PR's press release languishing in their email box (which in my case can after a few days turn into a No Man's Land). Obviously ask if it's a good moment though - phone when they're on deadline and you can get your head snapped off. At the end of the day all journalists need ideas for stories so we need PRs to pitch to us  just as much PRs need us to write about their press releases and case study ideas. Be kind to each other I say.

Had a really receptive group who took everything we talked about on board and used them in their pitching exercises and they gave me some great ideas for stories too!

Great news is that the Guild of Health Writers Writing Awards has attracted record entries this year and the judging process is now underway. The awards will be presented at a ceremony to be held in central London on 29 March.

The Guild of Health Writers is also running a seminar on dementia on 21 February in central London, The 'Coping with the dementia time bomb' line up includes Anglea Rippon, ambassador for the Alzheimer's Society. Guild member Jerome Burne will be talking about the secrets of healthy ageing (he's just written a book on it) and Professor Sube  Banerjee (co-author of the UK's Dementia Strategy) will give an update on latest research on causes of dementia and the new treatments on the horizon. Dr Graham Stokes from Bupa Care Homes will talk about Tickets are free and include a buffet supper and wine, available from the Guild web site The event is kindly sponsored by Bupa.

Been busy on lots of writing jobs I can't blog about yet as they're not in print yet - but I'll give them a mention when they're published in the near future. Oh yes I've managed to give up alcohol for most of January - only four days to go now (and counting!). I nearly gave up when I read the research published this month that said it wasn't worth giving up alcohol completely for a comparatively short time - but feeling really pleased with myself that I stuck at it now.

You can catch my article on the benefits of salt caves for asthma sufferers in the latest issue of Psychologies magazine this month.

January  3 2012,

Happy New Year everyone, hope you enjoyed your Christmas /New Year break.  Like everyone else I'm full of new resolutions for improving my health this year and one of them is signing up for a  Bupa 10 K run in May. I know it's hardly a marathon but a big step up for me as I've only previously managed 5ks ( badly!). Last year I improved my time in a Race for Life event at Battersea Park after taking some coaching tips from uber runner and journalist Fiona Bugler

-she honestly believes everyone can run - and the only reason most of us don't enjoy it is that we're not fit - five months of training  might make all the difference, so watch this space!

Also on my list for self improvement this week is buying is Anna Magee and Charlotte Watts's new book The De Stress Diet - which aims to tackle stress as well as overeating to make you slimmer and calmer - surely the two goals most of us want to achieve.

If you have a busy life and are having trouble sleeping and feel tempted to go down the prescribed sleeping pill route read my article about Z-drugs in today's Daily Mail first

There were over six million prescriptions for Z drugs (a group of hypnotic sleeping pills) in  England and Wales in 2010 and over four million more for other hypnotic sleeping pills called benzodiazepines .Although z drugs are an effective short term treatment for sleeping problems - taking them long term can cause problems as some patients can develop tolerance and need higher and higher doses in order to sleep. Some patients have also reported serious withdrawal symptoms - including anxiety and insomnia.

Whilst I've every sympathy for the sleep deprived -  there's nothing worse than a sleepless night - I still believe if something is keeping you awake at night it's better to tackle the root cause rather than try and mask the symptoms with drugs. Come on GPs - stop reaching for the prescription pad so readily - and if you do - stick to short term prescriptions only.

Bowel cancer screening has been introduced in England and Wales for men and women over 60, but new research suggests  more lives could be saved by lowering the screening age to 50. Read more about this in my article in the Daily Mail

The sun has come out while I've been writing and I'm off to jog around the block in my lunch hour...  let you know how I get on.... Happy New Year and  here's hoping you all stick to your healthy New Year resolutions too.

December 6  2011,

This week I've been writing about the return of the bone disease rickets and the general lack of awareness that children aged 6 months to five years need supplements. Toby Ault is a well cared for toddler - who eats well and  gets to play outside on his pony - and yet last year he was diagnosed with rickets - a disease straight from the pages of a Dickens novel. See my article in today's Daily Mail Good Health section

Toby's not that unusual either - a study published earlier this year by researchers at Southampton University found around 18 per cent of children who attended an orthopaedic clinic had vitamin D deficiency - and that's in one of the sunniest areas of Britain. Another survey of paediatric dietitians by the cereal manufacturer Kellogg's found 82 per cent had seen a rise in cases in the last year.

Why's it happening? Too much sun cream and our increasingly indoor lifestyles mean many of us aren't getting enough exposure to the sun so that our bodies can't make enough vitamin D - but we're also eating fewer eggs and less oily fish - the best dietary sources of vitamin D.

I've got three children but was unaware that daily vitamin D supplements are recommended for the under 5s and can't remember any health professional ever mentioning it to me either. Maybe going back to a spoonful of cod liver oil is unpalatable these days - so fortifying everyday foods like breakfast cereals , milk and orange juice would seem to be a good idea.

I've also got an article in the December issue of Psychologies magazine about a complementary health therapy called bio dynamic psychotherapy.It's a mixture of psychotherapy and massage. It's an interesting idea and based on the premise that stress is stored in the gut and needs to be released. I've written about mainstream medics using similar types of techniques at St Mark's Hospital  (a tertiary referral centre for bowel problems in north London), as a treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome -  so I think it's one of those complementary therapies that actually does makes sense. Definitely worth a try for people with stressful lifetsyles.

The Usual Suspects were out en masse on Thursday December 1 for the Guild of Health Writers Christmas party at the House of Lords - the champagne flowed and there was a delicious food , music and a chance to catch up with other health writers - great evening.

There is still time left to enter the Guild's Health Writing Awards 2012 with over £11k to be won in prize money - deadline for entries is December 16 , more details on



November 8 2011,


This week you can read my article on Seasonal Affective Disorder in Healthy magazine's November/ December issue

I know everyone probably thinks they have have SAD - but it's more than just feeling tired and grumpy because the skies are grey.

The defining  symptoms of SAD are craving carbs, feeling low and sleeping more than usual - all starting around the time the clocks go back in late October and not lifting again until Spring.

As someone who has to fight off the urge to hibernate from November to February I was interested in finding out about what treatments are available.  Daily doses of light therapy from portable lamps which give off a minimum of 500 lux can apparently improve your symptoms within four days. Newer studies suggest that low-intensity blue light may be more effective than intense white light because it activates a receptor called melanopsin which regulates alertness and circadian rhythms (the body's natural cycle of biological activity/sleep). Getting outside in daylight hours for a walk is also  recommended by  Dr Deenesh Khoosal  the consultant psychiatrist I interviewed. He also swears by winter holidays somewhere hot and simple lifestyle changes like learning to relax.

I've been trialling a blue light and a dawn simulator alarm clock (thank you Philips!Cool) for a few weeks and am definitely feeling chirpier than normal seeing as it's now November - so think they may be worth a go. That's if (like me) you can't afford two weeks in the Maldives....Cry.

This week also saw the launch of an exciting new online magazine I've been writing for called My co-contributors are the brilliant freelance journalists Martine Gallie, a former editor of and Emily Cook, a former health correspondent with the Daily Mirror. Here's one of the stories of hope I've written about a couple who spent £35,000 on their treatment

Multiplymagazine is a niche web magazine for anyone experiencing fertility problems -with a wealth of informative articles about fertility, infertility and IVF techniques, plus some inspiring stories of hope - all written in chatty women's magazine style. It's the brainchild of radio producer David Prever and his wife Victoria, also a journalist, who underwent six rounds of IVF treatment before having their two children and sets out to meet the needs of couples hungry for in-depth information and encouragement. Check it out - its a fantastic read and should be your first port of call if you're experiencing infertility.

I was also out and about last week visiting the Fertility Show at Olympia - picking up some stories about new treatments including a fascinating talk by Dr Gillian Lockwood on how flash-freezing techniques have improved  success rates with IVF using frozen eggs.Hope to be writing this story up for up for magazines and newspapers soon.

November 1  2011,

Many older women suffer fractures from minor falls and the causes are never fully investigated. In a significant number of these cases the underlying cause is brittle bones or osteoporosis. Read my interview in today's Daily Mail Good Health section with hairdresser with Christine Sharp,68, about her long battle to get a diagnosis  for her condition .

Christine, a hairdresser, suffered seven fractures in 14 years and lost six inches in height and was left in so much pain she had no alternative but to give up her thriving hairdressing business and end the 52 years career she adored.

When she eventually paid privately for to see a specialist - a DXA bone scan was done to measure  her bone density and Christine was told she had one of the worst cases of osteoporosis the specialist had ever seen. Her spine was literally crumbling away and yet it could have been prevented if she had been diagnosed and treated earlier.

When Christine rang the hospital to ask why they didn't employ a fracture liaison nurse to investigate fractures in the over 50s there was just silence at the end of the phone.

The NHS is failing women (and men) like Christine who suffer painful fractures without being diagnosed and treated for osteoporosis and more needs to be done to improve diagnosis of this painful condition.

October 26 2011,

Osteoporsis affects over three million people in the UK yet the NHS just doesn't seem to be taking it seriously enough.

More people have osteoporosis than have breast cancer or suffer a stroke combined - but do we really hear as much about the risks of your bones shattering as we do  the other two conditions?

It's not just elderly women  who are at risk either - men can get  osteoporosis too and increasingly younger women as well. You can read my article about three young women who developed bones so brittle they suffered fractures after following  faddy diets in today's Daily Mail

Until researching this feature I just didn't realise it was possible to suffer fractures in your 20's because of faddy diets  - but some of the women I interviewed had crumbling bones in their early twenties because of their highly restricted diets and punishing exercise regimes. All said they had been partly influenced by super skinny celebs and women's magazines

The Daily Mail is campaigning to highlight the plight of osteoporosis sufferers in the hope of improving diagnosis and treatment for those affected.

Osteoporosis  has been a Cinderella condition for too long and is great the disease is getting high profile recognition at last. Too many women - and men - are never offered a DXA bone scan to check their bone density after suffering a fracture and many go on to suffer serious breaks including hip fractures - which can lead to premature death and long term disability.

Find out more about osteoporosis and what your  risk factors are for developing it  on the National Osteoporosis Society's  web site

October 11 2011,

Read my article in today's Daily Mail Good Health section highlighting the problem of neuropathic back pain

Nerve pain symptoms including shooting, stabbing , electric shock -type pains, tingling and numbness with pain. It's a complicated condition and traditionally regarded as hard to resolve, particularly as neuropathic pain can also co-exist with a mechanical back pain problems or on its own - so it can hard to pinpoint exactly what is causing the problem.

Standard painkillers like paracetamol and ibupofen don't work as well on neuropathic pain - the National Institute for Clinical Excellence says the condition is best treated with  the antidepressant amitryptiline and an anti-epilectic drugs pregabalin.Exercise and pain management techniques can be helpful too.

My case study Maggie had suffered from a combination of mechanical and neuropathic pain for decades - but only her mechanical  problems were ever treated - she even remortgaged her house to spend £35,000 on a back pain operation - which didn't work. It wasn't until a physio mentioned she could have nerve pain that  the breakthrough came by trying exercise techniques.

Doctors working in secondary care pain clinics say they often see patients who have been suffering neuropathic pain for years and never been offered the most effective drugs. They hope  greater awareness of the condition will  mean  patients  don't have to suffer needlessly for so long before getting treatment that works .

September 20 2011,

Oh god - nothing worse than a neglected blog. You'll have to excuse me have been away in Turkey (more about that later) and then there was the Health Benefits of Beer Conference in Brussels (yes really), and in between have been catching up with my writing jobs (lots and lots of content writing for a brand new health website launching next month).

Well this month my work load has certainly been varied and spread across a number of different publications.I've got two articles in the latest issue of At Home With Jo Frost a magazine featuring parenting advice and tips and lots of input from the celebrity SuperNanny. You can read my feature on Getting Children to Break Bad Habits - tackling common problems like clinginess , bed wetting and thumb sucking, plus another article on child development.

Talking of Turkey - its definitely a land of smokers and  a bit of a culture shock for those of used to the UK's smoking ban in restaurants and bars. A tour guide on a trio we took  told us life expectancy in Turkey lags stubbornly behind  some parts of the world because of the country's high smoking rates. I've been writing about smoking cessation for The Advisor a magazine aimed at clinic staff - highlighting the controversy over e-cigarettes (Eastenders actress June Brown aka Dot Branning reportedly loves them). I've also written another article on the role of complementary therapies like hypnotherapy and acupuncture - all useful things to try if you're struggling to give up smoking - although they don't have the clinical evidence behind them that nicotine replacement therapy has built up, the anecdotal evidence from patients is persuasive and I think both warrant larger randomised controlled trials.

You can also catch another of my articles in the September issue of Healthy Food Guide Magazine on Do You Really Need Vitamins and Supplements? - an investigation of what supplements you need and why.

And in the September 5 issue of Yours magazine ( I wrote a feature on Maggie's battle to get a correct diagnosis for her fluttering heart, dizziness and breathlessness, (Saved By A Chance Discovery pge 48-49). She thought she was just tired and stressed from work - but in fact she had Atrial Fibrillation,an electrical heart rhythm disorder which causes your heart to beat too fast or too slow. Find out more about how to spot the symptoms at

I've also been writing about sweeteners (Are your sweeteners making you fat?) for Top Sante magazine's September issue. I was fascinated to interview Professor Susan Purdue from the US about her research in rats which showed those fed yogurt laced with sweeteners gained more weight than those fed yoghurt sweetened with sugar. Could it be that sweeteners just make us crave more sweet things and end up making us fat? It's certainly an interesting theory and  may go some way towards explaining the obesity crisis in the US (and the UK).

Move Over Red Wine.....

This week I've  been in Brussels at a symposium on the Health Benefits of Beer (yeah right - that's what I thought!). However I stand corrected - I'd no idea  for instance that beer contains silicon - a mineral we need for all connective tissue including bones (Professor Jonathan Powell from the MRC Human Nutrition Unit at Cambridge University says its works like reinforced concrete for bones), plus the aorta. Professor Powell says moderate consumption of beer (which has higher concentration of silicon than other food sources) has two beneficial effects on bone health - the silicon enhances bone formation and the ethanol (alcohol) inhibits bone loss.

Wine does not contain silicon and yet we constantly hear that's good for us and a main staple of the Med diet - but beer just doesn't get the same sort of good press. Instead it's blamed for beer bellies etc - although at another presentation by Professor Arne Arstrup from the University of Copenhagen we heard there was no scientific evidence to support the idea that moderate beer drinking produces abdominal fatness. He said instead that the well established risk factors for a beer belly were male gender, smoking, physical inactivity, mental stress, impaired sleep and high intake of certain trans fats and use of certain drugs.

Dr Maria-Teresa Hernandez from Spain also presented research that found that giving breastfeeding women non-alcoholic beer slowed down the decline in antioxidant concentration in breast milk between 15 days and one month. Although the concentration of antioxidants still decline - the decline was much less in the mothers who had a daily tipple of non alcoholic beer. She concluded that non alcoholic beer may be a good source of nutrients and antioxidants to add to other healthy foods for lactating mums.

No-one  is suggesting we all start drinking vast quantities of beer - but small quantities it seems may be good for us after all. Maybe its time to give beer another chance?


August 16 2011,

This month I've been writing for Yours magazine about Dupuytren's contracture, a common condition which causes fingers to bend into the palm of the hand. It affects around one in five men over 60 and one in five women over 80 and can be extremely debilitating if you are unlucky enough to develop it.

My case study Hannah Lambert struggled to do up buttons and write letters and had repeated operations to correct the problem which all  required recovery time and physiotherapy.She finally got relief when she was selected for a trial of a new injection called Xiapex - the first injectable treatment for Dupuytren's licensed in the UK. The new injection can be given in an outpatient setting. It consists of two enzymes that work by breaking down the structure of a cord that develops in the connective tissue of the hand. Twenty four hours after the injection is given, a simple procedure can be performed to help straighten the finger -avoiding the need for surgery.

You can also read my article Are your sweeteners making you fat? in the September issue  (out now) of Top Sante magazine (page 108/109). It was a fascinating subject to research - particularly interviewing Professor Susan Swithers from Purdue University in West Lafayette, USA, who made the startling discovery that sweeteners may actually make you gain weight rather than lose it. Her research on rats found that those fed a type of yoghurt laced with artificial sweeteners put on more weight than those fed yoghurt with sugar added. The Purdue theory is that when we eat artificially sweetened food with no calories it disrupts the link between sweetness and calories , so the brain doesn't register that its is full quite so quickly, so we eat more and gain weight. There are plenty of experts who disagree of course - but it might partly explain why obesity rates are rocketing despite an explosion in the number of artificially sweetened 'diet' foods and fizzy drinks.

JULY 19 2011,

Most women have heard about Pre Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) and its debilitating side effects - but not so far many are familiar with the term Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) - the American name for the most severe form of PMS.The condition is believed to affect an estimated 500,000 to one million women in the UK.

To be diagnosed with PMDD a woman must suffer from at least four of the following symptoms: markedly depressed mood, marked anxiety or tension, persistent irritability or anger, difficulty in concentrating, decreased interest in usual activities, noticeable lack of energy, marked change in appetite, insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much), sense of being overwhelmed or out of control, sudden sadness or depression and physical symptoms such as joint pains, headaches, breast tenderness or "bloating."

Symptoms usually occur a week before a menstrual cycle begins and disappear a few days after the menstrual cycle starts. The symptoms must recur in at least two consecutive menstrual cycles and must also "markedly interfere" with work, basic functioning or social relationships.

Read all about  how how PMDD wreaked havoc on 42 year old Kirsty Baranowski's life in my article in today's Daily Mail Good Health section

The worrying thing is that many PMDD sufferers are either never diagnosed or treated or sometimes it is claimed - misdiagnosed as having a mental illness. The good news is that it can be treated with either drug treatments or in the most severe cases surgery.

You can find out more PMDD from the excellent information provided on the Pre Menstrual Syndrome Association's web site

Over the last few weeks I've also been writing about  the return of measles in the UK - mainly due to low uptake rates for the MMR vaccine in the late 1990s and early part of the century. Thankfully MMR immunisation rates in England have just got back to 90 per cent again for the under fives - but there are still older children in their teens who may be at risk because they were not vaccinated at the height of the Andrew Wakefield scare. Wakefield's research - which has been discredited - linked the MMR to autism and bowel conditions. You can read my article on this in the Daily Mail at

I've also been interviewing actress Patsy Kensit about her health regime - she swears by exercising , meditation, coffee enemas and organic food - and she's looking great on it. You can read the interview at . Really sweet lady - even sent my kids an autograph (they're big Holby City fans!).

Also took some time out to go  on a short course run by Susan Grossman -called Pitching to Editors which was fantastic and really inspiring. I've already made a successsful pitch to a new editor so the £125 course has paid  for itself in just a week!

The Guild of Health Writers also held its Annual Summer Party at the House of Lords on 7 July and it was a great evening with lots of editors , commissioning editors and journalists and PRs coming along for a few drinks and a catch-up - great way to mix business with pleasure and put faces to names.

June 21 2011,

I grew up hearing my parents and  grandparents talking about how TB cast a shadow over their childhoods and the family members who were sent off to sanatoriums  for treatment in isolation. Like them  though  I thought those days were confined to the history books - but as with most things if you get too complacent about something it tends to reappear.

Now  drug resistant strains of  TB and  other bacterial infections, as well as viruses are causing scientists a big headache. Read my article in today's Daily Mail Good health section about Anna Waterson who spent four months in an isolation hospital after picking up a drug resistant strain of TB. The drug treatment lasted 18 months - three times as long as normal and the antibiotics used had more side effects  - not so easy to treat after all.

While Anna eventually made a full recovery and is now completely clear of the disease , cases such as hers are becoming alarmingly common, the World Health Organisation recently warned. Millions of patients worldwide are falling victim to diseases which are becoming increasingly resistant to standard medical treatments. As well as TB, these include other diseases linked to bacteria, including the  hospital superbug MRSA which caused over 1,898 case of  bloodstream infections in 2009/10 and another called pseudomonas which causes potentially fatal infections in intensive care patients  and those with cystic fibrosis.

Cases of the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea which are resistant to the standard antibiotic treatment ciprofloxacin are also on the increase.There are  also signs of drug resistance emerging in  malaria, influenza  and HIV. Another reminder that nature is always one step ahead of the human race and to not take anything for granted.


May 24 2011,

This week I've been writing about the dangers of  buying prescription drugs on the internet. Fake medicines are a huge global problem and most consumers seem dangerously unaware that counterfeit drugs are everywhere now. See my article in today's Daily Mail for more details

I'm also the new Chairman of the Guild of Health Writers and I'd like to flag up an upcoming event - a Charity Speed networking evening for health charities and health journalists on June 8 -  should be a great evening and tickets are only £10 for members and £15 for non members including a buffet supper.

For more details see the Guild of Health Writers web site



April 26 2011,

Back after the Easter Break. Take a look at my article in today's Daily Mail Good Health section on Claire Carlson who paid out thousands in critical illness cover only to be told she had the wrong sort of cancer for a payout.

Claire's experience illustrates why its always best to check the small print and  that critical illness insurance is by no means a catch-all safety net which covers you for all illnesses  Independent Financial adviser Alan Lakey is so concerned about the situation that he has set up a new website to give consumers and other IFAs expert advice on what these policies do and don't cover.

You can read more of my articles on


March 23 2011

I've written about the problem of long term addiction to benzodiazepines before - but sadly the problem isn't going away.

I think it's scandalous that milliions of people are being prescribed drugs for years on end rather than the then 4 to 6 weeks recommended in official guidelines. These patients are involuntary drug addicts - but unlike illegal drug users - specialist help for those with addictions to prescription drugs is not widely available.

That's why its alarming to hear of anecdotal reports that GPs are taking long term addicts off these drugs too quickly and without offering any specialist support. See my article in Daily Mail Good Health

Some of the benzo charities are doing a fantastic job offering advice and support via help-lines - but more NHS specialist clinics are desperately needed to help these people come off benzos on a tapered withdrawal programme. Lets hope some of the GPs taking over the reins in the NHS will commission these services.

March 8 2011

Read my article in today's Daily Mail  Good Health scetion about how the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra is turning out to have some unexpected heath benefits for patients who suffer from Raynauds syndrome.Read more:
Anne Mawdsley had struggled to find relief for her "cold hand" symptoms for over 30 years and narrowly missed having to have fingers and toes amputated because her symptoms were so severe, after she developed ulcers and gangrene. But since enrolling on the drug trial two years ago her attacks have become less severe and the drug trial she took part in has established Vigra does have a benefit.
For more information, visit or call 0800 917 2494

Was away in South Africa last week learning all about the Marula fruit - a gourmet feast for elephants (they'll walk vast distances to feast on them), that grows wild in the African bush. It tastes a little like a lychee but has four times the vitamin C content of an orange despite being about a quarter of the size. Locals also use it to make wine and beer, plus supply fruit to the makers of the Amarula fruit liquer. Sadly, the fruit decomposes rapidly so cannot be exported to Europe,although you can now buy juices containing the super fruit in the UK and the kernels are ground up to make oils used in some Body Shop products.

February 22 2011

If you're worried about eating red meat because of new government guidelines warning that high consumption is linked with bowel cancer and heart disease
read my article in today's Daily Mail before you decide to give it up for good  see

Red meat consumption  amongst women slumped massively in the UK by 40 per cent between 2003 and 2008, fuelled by health scares. Now surveys have found up to 40 per cent of 25 to 34 year olds have an insufficient iron intake, putting them at risk of developing iron defciency anaemia.
Anaemia can cause lack of concentration,fatigue dizziness and low birth weight babies and even lower IQ - so obviously poses its own health hazards.
What I find fascinating too is that some foods touted as rich in iron such as spinach - actually contain chemicals which inhibit the absorpton of iron. Tea, coffee and wine can also inhibit iron absorption, as can the calcium in milk. It's vitally important that you consume a Vitamin C rich drink such as orange juice at meal times to  boost absorption of iron to counter this.
Red meat really does appear to be the best source of iron - the trick is to not  eat too much of it and stick to leaner cuts and unprocessed types. Moderation in all things as the experts are always telling us......
This week I've been writing about how cancer is increasingly becoming a chronic condition like high blood pressure or diabetes - a disease you  can live with for years and keep under control with drugs . Read the full article at Daily Mail Good Health today

February 1 2011

It's not happening with all cancers of course and obvioulsy there are still 150,000 deaths a years from cancer in the UK, but many patients are living  much longer than could have ever been contemplated even a decade ago. The breakthroughs made with  treating diseases like chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML), multiple myeloma and follicular lymphoma , are also being applied to  other cancers. Some CML patients are still alive 14 years after starting their treatment with  these genetically targeted  drugs. Just as important is tha fact is that these treatments are well tolerated - because the treatments target the tumour cells and not healthy cells - side effects are minimal when compared to chemotherapy.

A diagnosis of cancer is always devastating but no longer automatically a death sentence and increasingly people are living for many years with certain types of cancer and eventually dying of other conditions. Good news for a change and some I wanted to share.

You can read more of articles on

January 25 2011,
Read my article in today's Daily Mail about how Irritable Bowel Syndrome can have its roots in your psyche and respond to psychological therapies

The experts at St Mark's Hospital's Psychological Medicine Unit  in north London help 150 patients a year with IBS and other bowel conditions. They say stress and  the memories of traumatic events in childhood and adult life can actually manifest itself themselves in physical symptoms like bloating, constipation and tummy cramps. The treatment certainly worked for Angela Harewood,
Also read my feature in this week's Woman magazine(24 Jan issue) 'When being fat isn't your fault' about three women who all put on weight for no apparent reason and then discovered an underlying medical problem was actually to blame. Ali Jaggger gained an amazing eight stone in six months due to an undiagnosed underactive thyroid problem, Vickie Martin discovered polycystic ovary syndrome was to blame for her weight gain and Jess Morgan lost five stone after discovering she had a wheat intolerance. Three good reasons to have check up if you genuinely can 't work why you're putting on weight .
I've also been writing about how to attract money into your life - see my article in this  month's Spirit and Destiny magazine 'Bathed in Riches' where I learnt all about how my garden pond was draining money out of my house, why I needed to get a money tree for my home office and give it a tidy up to encourage  positive energy flow.... and lots more! Has it worked? Well I'm certainly very busy but how many millionaire freelance journalists do you know?

December 7 2010,
I was shocked to discover whilst researching my latest article on heart disease in women that more females are now dying of heart and circulatory problems than men.New figures from the British Heart Foundation reveal 99,000 women under 75 now die from these conditions every years as opposed to 91,000 men. You can read the article in the Daily Mail Good Health section today by clicking on this link
It's deeply worrying that heart disease doesn't seem to be even on the radar of most women (or that of some doctors).
Professor Peter Collins of the Royal Brompton Hospital says breast cancer is the number one health fear amongst most women  and yet only three per cent of them will die from this and 40 per cent will die from heart disease. The British Heart Foundation want all women over 40 to request a heart check-up from their GP if they haven't already been offered one - think I'll book one myself!
You can also read my article on End Of Life care  'Helping people live until they die' in the latest issue of Translate magazine , published by King's Health Partners, available to download from the King's Health Partners at
Also look out for my features  on What to Expect from IVF and How to Boost Your Fertility in the Infertilty Network's  quarterly magazine Your Fertility, see for details

November 2 2010,
If you've ever wondered  whether that prescription your GP is scribbling before you've even finished telling him what's wrong is really necessary you might want to read my article in today's Daily Mail
Are your pills dangerous? Overprescribing is so rife that millions...

Millions of pounds of NHS money is being wasted on drugs patients don't even need according to research. More worrying is the fact that these drugs can expose patients to dangerous side effects completely unnecessarily. Up to 30 per cent of hospital admissions amongst the elderly for instance, are due to inappropriate prescribing.
The list of drugs you may not need includes proton pump inhibitors - a commonly prescribed drug for ulcers and  gastric reflux. Studies have found up to 70 per cent of PPI prescriptions may not be necessary and experts estimate at least £100 million a year may be wasted on "overtreating" indigestion. No-one is denying that PPIs are effective drugs; patients say they work well - it's just that a less powerful remedy or even some simple lifestyle advice about losing weight and avoiding spicy foods may have done instead. PPIs are associated with a greatly increased risk of developing the  superbug C.difficile, fractures and of pneumonia in intensive care - so they are by no means without  potential side effects.
Other drugs commonly overprescribed include NSAIDs for arthritis, benzos for insomnia, anti-psychotic drugs for violent behavour in dementia patients, asthma drugs and antibiotics. Of course it's not just the fault of the doctors - many patients have come to expect a prescription from their GP at every appointment and sometimes put their doctor under pressure to prescribe. What's needed is more discussion between doctor and patient about whether a drug is really necessary or whether non drug treatments or lifestyle changes might work just as well.

October 19 2010,
As a life-long dental phobic I was delighted to find out about some of the innovations in the pipeline for dentistry this week. No more painful injections, drilling away teeth to attach veneers and  anaesthetics that wear off faster so you don't have a numb lip for hours on end - are just of the new treatments coming your way soon. You can read all about it in my article in the Daily Mail Good Health section today at or on,
One dental product I've been raving about to all my friends (and no I didn't get a free one!) is the Oral B Triumph 5000 toothbrush. The chief executive of the Dental Health Foundation described it as the Rolls Royce of toothbrushes when I was writing a feature on dental health for Woman magazine last month and  I decided to give it a try.After four weeks of using it I completely agree  with the DHF - fab  - less plaque build-up and whiter teeth. It costs around £170  which is a bit steep I know -but lots of deals are on at the moment (I got mine half price at Argos) and it could save you some expensive trips to the hygienist.Just thought I'd share that with you......

September 28 2010,
Read my article in today's Daily Mail on how eating close before an op and soon after, can speed up your recovery
Bowel cancer patient  Mike Attard, 78, is one of thousands of patients to benefit from carb-loading six hours before surgery and high energy drinks two hours before. After a four hour operation to remove six inches of his bowel he was up and  about  next day and eating roast beef and Yorkshire pud a few days later and home in four days - with no complications or infections. He puts his recovery down to the fact that he didn't have to cope with massive trauma after his surgery leaving his body able to fight off his cancer. It seems obvious now that starving the body pre and post surgery weakened patients and prolonged their recovery period - but the surgeons at St Mark's Hospital in north London ,who were among the first to pioneer the enhanced recovery approach in the UK, took a real leap of faith on this one. Their instincts have paid off though - infection rates are down and hospital stays have been halved in some cases.
Don't forget you can still  buy my new book (and write a review) on and read  copies of my other articles on

Back after a summer break..... read my article in today's Daily Mail Good Health section on Lucy Appleton's 10 year battle to get a diagnosis for Crohn's Disease
Crohn's disease is on the increase but often goes undiagnosed for many years causing poor quality of life and damage to the gut. Find out more  about this debilitating condition at
Also look out for my health articles in Woman magazine and  coming soon ...the Royal College of Obs and Gynaecologist's magazine Wellbeing.
You can read more of my articles published on-line at



August 17 2010

This week I've been writing about the growing problem of antibiotic resistance (see today's Daily Mail
It sounds like a bad 1950s sci-fi film but the reality is that we are edging ever closer to the prospect of superbugs becoming untreatable with antibiotics - and that's the warning  issued by some of the Uk's top mircobiologists.
New Delhi Metallo-1 (NDM-1) has been found to be widespread in India and Pakistan and now 50 cases have been identified in the UK. The gene produces an enzyme which kills carbapenems - the strongest antibiotics proven still to work and often viewed as the last line of defence against superbugs.
What's needed is more investment to develop powerful new treatments to help doctors stay one step ahead of the  superbugs - but drug companies have little incentive to invest as antibiotics are short term treatments only and less profitable than treatments such as blood pressure or cholesterol lowering medication which patients take for the rest of their lives. Experts have warned it could  take 10-15 years and cost over 1 Billion Dollars to develop a new class of antibiotics.
Surveillance and genetic "finger-printing" are also important so scientists can keep tabs on how bugs are mutating and developing.
Whilst experts stress there is no need to panic at the moment - the prospect of a superbug we just can't cure anymore is now just around the corner.




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Tuesday July 7 2010
Ever had a fluttering and pounding sensation in your chest? It's possible you could have a heart beat disorder called Atrial Fibrillation. Read all about 62 year old Andy Poole's 40 year battle to get a diagnosis for his terrifying attacks in the Daily Mail's Good Health section
Andy suffered palpitations and a pounding heart rate from his mid 20s but was told he was drinking too much coffee. He says some nights he was too terrified to go to sleep because he feared he might never wake up. Despite repeated visits to his GP he was never diagnosed as having AF. It was only last year when he actually had an attack in his GP surgery - which  showed up on an ECG - that AF was finally diagnosed.
Around 600,000 people in the UK have this disorder and it is much more common as you get older affect around nine per cent of people who reach their eighties. It's important to get treated for it because it puts you at a much higher risk of stroke. The Atrial Fibrillation Association says its important to get the condition diagnosed and treated early as undiagnosed AF can rsult in fatigue and breathlessness and dramatically affect quality of life. Early treatment can also prevent strokes and costly hospital admissions. A simple pulse test can pick it up - so check yours regularly or ask your GP. Find out more from

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Tuesday June 22 2010,

This week I've been writing about all the men who suffer from so-called "women's problems" (see today's Daily Mail at

These include hormonal menopause-type symptoms, breast cancer , osteoporosis. migraines, varicose veins  and incontinence.

There are common themes to emerge with all these illnesses -men don't believe they can get them and tend to present to a doctor late and doctors are less likely to diagnose these problems in men because they are more unusual. The key is greater awareness about these conditons so men don't miss out on effective treatments.
Astoundingly more men die from breast cancer than testicular cancer and although the numbers are small I still find it shocking that there is so little public awareness of male breast cancer. Compare ignorance of male breast cancer to the excellent public awareness of testicular cancer including information campaigns on early warning signs and how men can examine themselves.
This is clearly the way to go and men really shouldn't be left to suffer in silence about these problems any more.
You can read more of my articles in full on

Tuesday June 15,
Read my article in today's Daily Mail on  the difficulties some people face in getting a diagnosis for rheumatoid arthitis

As you'll read in the article 44 year old Elizabeth Ogg waited months for an RA diagnosis after she developed agonising pains in her arms and legs completely out of the blue. But a recent Public Accounts Committee report has found that delaying diagnosis and treatment can affect the progression of RA and urges that patients start treatment within the first three months of symptoms. This could prevent patients suffering serious disability because effective treatments are now available which can halt the progression of the disease.
Tell-tale symptoms include swelling of the joints especially in the hands and feet, stiffness and pain.

Also very exciting news to report to blog readers today - my new book is out and available to buy on Amazon for £8.99. Written with my co-author the brilliant journalist Martine Gallie and expertly edited by GP Dr David Edwards - Family Health: The Essential Guide to Diet, Medicine and Wellbeing - is a handy medical reference book aimed at busy time-poor families. I hope it's a less confusing alternative to dipping into millions of internet sites which all tell you something different! You can buy one by clicking this link

The publisher is Flametree Publishing.

You can also check out my web copywriting skills this week  at


Tuesday June 1 2010,

If you've ever felt sleepy behind the wheel  or drowsy at your desk at work but shrugged it off as just overdoing it  - read  my article in today's Daily Mail Good Health section  - a cautionary tale about obstructive sleep apnoea.

It's possible that the reason for your sleepiness is obstructive sleep apnoea. Classic symptoms include loud snoring, spluttering/gasping for breath in your sleep and waking unrefreshed from sleep in the morning,plus daytime sleepiness. More serious risks include high blood pressure and a higher risk of strokes and heart disease.

Daytime sleepiness cause accidents at work and  you're also 15 times  more likely to be involved in a road accident. Many drivers are in denial about their symptoms because they fear losing their licence and their livelihoods, but effective treatments are available.

The gold standard treatment endorsed by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence is the Continuous Positive Airways Pressure (CPAP) machine - a mask worn during sleep that's connected to an electrical pump to supply air to the mask and keep the airways open. Once symptoms are brought under control drivers can get their licences get from the DVLA and be safe in the knowledge that they are unlikely to doze off at the wheel.

For more information on OSA go to

Tuesday April 27 2010

Read my artiicle in today's Daily Mail Good Health section about whether there really is such a thing as the male menopause

Although not technically a menopause (the word has a very specific medical meaning referring to the end of periods in women) - experts do believe men do suffer falls in the levels of their sex homone - testosterone - in their middle to later years.

This condition is known as Testosterone Deficiency Syndrome (TDS) and is caused by either the testicles not functioning normally or when the body's overall hormone production is out of balance.

Testosterone is not only vital to a man's potency and sex drive, but is also important for maintaining muscle strength, healthy bones, positive  mood and energy levels.

Ken Harvey a 47 year old TDS sufferer I interviewed for the piece talks frankly about how he suffered mood swings, loss of libido, weight gain round his middle, fatigue and joint pain , as well as loss of facial and body hair and hot flushes. His symptoms improved markedly after he began testosterone replacement therapy and he feels  that more men could benefit from the treatment.

Indeed there do seem to be sound medical reasons for treating TDS. A 2007 study by the University of California's San Diego School of Medicine found men with low levels of testosterone are more likely to die prematurely from all causes. This is thought to be because TDS causes weight gain round the middle, which raises their chances of developing type 2 diabtes and increases their cardiovascular risks.

But some doctors believe falls in testosterone levels are just a normal part of getting older and do not need treatment and are cautious about putting thousands of men on a hormone treatment they will need for the rest of their lives.

To find out more about TDS go to

Tuesday April 20 2010
Gout is on the increase  and it's affecting more women too. Experts say the incidence of gout in women doubled between the 1970s and 1990s. They blame the fact that women are living longer, are more likely to be overweight, drink alcohol and take  certain types of prescription medication which increase uric acid concentration in the bloodstream. Read my article on Shelley Rees-Langley a 49 year old gout sufferer in today's Daily Mail Good Health Her story dispels some of the myths about gout being predominately a boozy old man's disease. Shelley hardly drinks alcohol, eats healthily, isn't overweight and has no family history of the disease and yet still suffered two painful attacks.

Gout is actually a form of arthritis caused by deposits of uric acid crystals forming in the joints and if left untreated can cause serious damage to the joints and bones. The good news is that highly effective treatments are now available which can prevent further attacks - so  sufferers don't have to just put up with it and endure all the jokes about tippling too much port and red wine. Incidentally beer is actually worse for gout sufferers than wine, probably because it contains preservatives that have a higher purine content - a compound that is broken down into uric acid in the boy.

To find out more about how to prevent anad manage gout symptoms contact the UK Gout Society

I've also got a feature in this month's Spirit and Destiny magazine (on sale April 8) on Bend it Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha,50 and the health and fitness regime that has transformed her life. Gurinder, who has a new film out this month 'It's A Wonderful After Life' on general  release from April 23  - a comedy/horror film about reincarnation, was struggling with her weight and wanted to boost her energy levels after giving birth to  twins at age 47. She turned to a company called Nosh Detox and shed a stone and discovered a new passion for running in Regent's Park. She's got  some fascinating things to say about her spiritual life too (a numerologist predicted the day she would meet her huband and his initials!) and a great optimistic take on life, but what also comes across in the piece is that's she's a lot of fun and has a wicked sense of humour too.

Tuesday March 30 2010,
Statins - the cholesterol-lowering drugs prescribed to six million Britons have undoubtedly saved countless lives - but at what cost to quality of life?
Read my article in today's Daily Mail about the impact these drugs can have on day to day life and the side effects they can cause including memory problems, muscle pain and nerve damage.
I got interested in this subject after I met a number of older people - including my parents and their friends who were struggling to cope with statin side effects. They all felt their concerns were being brushed aside by their GPs and that they were expected to put up with debilitating side effects because of the perceived long term health benefits. They all told me  that if you get any group of over-60s together - statins and their side effects was always one of the hot topics of conversation. Just anecedotal reports I know but I thought it was worth investigating.
I'm not doubting statins do cut cholesterol and I'd assumed that as they reduce the risk of having a cardiac event by as much as 30 per cent they must also increase life  expectancy. But Dr Malcolm Kendrick (admittedly a cholesterol sceptic) told me that even if a man who had a heart attack and was at high risk of another, took statins for 40 years he would only extend his life by 17.5 DAYS. I found myself asking whether muscle pain,memory problems and nerve damage were really worth putting up with for a little more than a fortnight extra on the planet.
Paul Rhoades, a smallholder who I interviewed for the Mail piece believes not. He has  suffered permenant nerve damage and been left unable to walk - he swears statins are to blame, but of course can't prove it.
Jeff Cable a former NHS nurse from Leighton Buzzard has been compiling personal testimonies from patients about statin side effects on his website http//
There's also a new group called the UK Statin Side Effects Group - contact  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it to join - you'll find that most members tell a similar story. It has to make you at least question whether the government's enthusiasm for statins for all over-50s can really be justified. It's hard for individual patients to go against the conventional wisdom - we're all told statins are a wonder drug after all - but maybe its worth weighing up the risks versus the benefits and decide for yourself.

Tuesday March 23 2010,
This week I've been writing about the scandal of elderly people hooked on tranquillisers (also known as benzos) for decades. An estimated 1.5 million people are hooked on the drugs in the UK despite the fact that prescribing guidelines advise GPs  should prescribe them for no more than 4 weeks at a time.
I interviewed 74 year old retired engineer Keith Andrew about his 45 year addiction to benzos for the Daily Mail's Good Health section today has suffered for decades and was never offered any help to come off his medication by doctors. However with the help of Oldham Drug and Alcohol Advisory Service he has managed to reduce his 30mg prescription to 5.5mg - although it has been far from easy.

MPs are now so concerned about the extent of benzo addiction they have complained to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission about the lack of support available to people addicted to benzos compared to those provided for people addicted to hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

The great tragedy is that many of these so-called addicts (actually I'd prefer to call them victims) are never offered help and support to quit and many are doomed to stay on them for the rest of their lives.

Check out my three page profile of tennis ace Pat Cash in the latest issue (April) of Spirit and Destiny magazine, where he reveals all about his spiritual guru and love of alternative health and green issues.

Tuesday  March 2 2010,
Read my latest article in today's Daily Mail Good Health section on Ali Jagger Poor Ali piled on eight stone in just six months and was just told she was greedy by doctors - but  nine months later she was  diagnosed with an under active thyroid condition. Unfortunately its taken her six long years to lose the extra weight she gained but she's now  back to 10 st 7lbs.

Tuesday February 23 2010

Read my article on How to get rid of nits in today's Daily Mail Good Health section.

One in five primary school children have head lice at any one time and as every parent knows they can be a devil to get rid of.

A new survey has found that a third of GPs and pharmacists are still recommending insecticide treatments despite the fact that 80 per cent of head lice are now resistant to them. No wonder that most parents are left scratching their heads as to how to get rid of the annoying little creatures.!

Ian Burgess director of the Medical Entomology Centre in Cambridge  says its the newer non-insecticide treatments that parents should be using - they act in a completely different way and "shrink wrap" the lice so they suffocate and die. These can be between 70 and 97 per cent effective providing you repeat the treatment as instructed. The treatments that  are most effective include Hedrin, Lyclear Spray Away, NYDA and Full Marks Solution.

Other useful tips from Ian include the importance of weekly checks with a plastic nit comb - your child might not even be scratching their head but  just one louse can lay up to 150 eggs in its 28 lifespan so it's important to be vigilant!!

Also check out the Saga Health Channel for my article on coping with tinnitus.

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