Archive for December, 2008

Getting a life and getting a wife

December 31, 2008

In the last post I told you about how some one expressed annoyance at my blogging telling me to “get a life and get a wife.”

Well, what I did not tell her is that I have already tried.  A few months ago I saw a poster in a newsagents window down Basingstoke High Street.  “Do you have no life?  Do you have no friends?  Perhaps you are spending too much time at your computer, possibly blogging away whilst the world passes you by?  Well don’t get depressed come speed dating at the Basingstoke Arms next Thursday and make lots of new friends!”  Well, that was quite a turn up for the books.  I resolved there and then to try speed dating.  Once everyone saw how charismatic, articulate and intelligent I was I need never spend an evening in again.

So one Thursday evening I went along to the Basingstoke Arms. There were lots and lots of people there just waiting to be introduced to me.  Once they heard my tuna risotto recipe I would be well in.  Two hours later I went to the back of the room to see if anyone had left me their telephone numbers or rather to see who had not left me her telephone number.  There were only two pieces of paper waiting for me.  One said, “Get lost. You bore me.”  Playing hard to get ehhh?   The other said:  “I feel our souls have achieved a connection at the level of quantum physics.  A spark waiting to be kindled. When the universe was created our destinies were bound together. I have a strong interest in new age psychology and feel tuna risotto is a metaphor for something.  After all tuna is a fish and we are a the end of the age of pisces.  Who knows where history will take us.  ‘Phone me on Basingstoke 222 746.”
So I telephoned the number.  It was Basingstoke Building Society. Surely some mistake?  No apparently there is not much demand for naturopaths in Basingstoke at the moment so my new friend had taken a job at the building society, just for the time being you understand. “Can I take you out to dinner?” I asked.  “There is a great Italian restaurant …”  “Sorry I don’t eat Italian.”  “Indian?” “No”  “Chinese” “No”  “Lebanese?” “No, it is just I have some allergies and most cooked foods give me a problem.”  “Why is that?”  “Look it is just the way my metabolism is built” she growled.  “How about the vegan place above the holistic clinic?  I’ll ask them to make sure your food does not come in contact with anything cooked.”

So we met up.  My new friend nibbled on some rice crackers whilst I had a quinoa roast.   “Of course I am not just a naturopathic doctor,” she declared I can talk to the dead.  “Really?”  I replied “It would be great to speak to my grandfather.  “It is NOT as easy as that.  You just need to be prepared to act as a receptor for the disembodied spirits out there.”   “Well, I s’pose given that at your clinic you tell people to avoid conventional medicine there must be quite a lot of disembodied spirits trying to contact you.”  I have to say I looked rather good with a quinoa roast on top of my head. You might say it was a new age hair style.

So there I was still without any friends.  There must be some one out there who would appreciate me.   So I logged on to and quickly found some one who was a life coach. Now if that was not glamorous and exciting I don’t know what is.  Unfortunately, our meeting did not last longer than the starter.  “You chose garlic bread.  You’re obviously a loser with no friends.  You need a copy of my latest book How to Be Brilliant and Change your Sad Old Life for only £19.99 (CD optional for an extra £12.99).  In fact why not come along to my next seminar?  Usually they cost £695 + VAT.  However, select and lucky individuals get to come for free.  I do think you deserve and need a scholarship for my programme.”  [Readers I have to confess to attending the three day seminar. I’ll tell you about that another time.]

Undaunted at my second brush off I picked up the latest issue of The Basingstoke Bugle. They have a section for people who want to make connections NOT a lonely hearts column you understand, but rather a means by which intelligent and charismatic people could get in touch with each other.  “Nutritional therapist seeks similarly successful and charismatic individual for discussions about the latest nutritional theories (systematic reviews optional).”

The following week I was back at the vegan restaurant.  Once we started eating I asked the question that had been playing on my mind all week:  “What is a nutritional therapist?” “Well, ” she answered, “difficult to say.  One thing I will say is that I am not a dietitian. They take orders from doctors.”   “Okay.   Who do you take orders from?”  “Well there is a man, a leader of our movement who has spent the last thirty years studying nutrition. ”  “Is he a dietitian?”  “Err … no” said my date. “Let me show you something I do not show very many people.”   She then got something out of her hand bag that looked like a school pencil case.  She opened it up.  “Gosh,” I gasped, “You have got a lot of pills there.”  “They are not pills,” she growled, “they are supplements to help rescue me from sub-optimum health.”  “What are they supplementing?” I asked.  “Come to my place next weekend and all will be revealed.”

I arrived the following Saturday and was ushered in to the living room.  “Watch this,” she ordered.  For the next three hours I had to watch a video with a man called Patrick talking about something called optimum nutrition.  How that was different to normal nutrition Patrick was not letting on.  “Our movement has a bible” she declared.  “Ahhh yes.  Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”  “No, not that bible this bible,” she said handing me a book called The Optimum Nutrition Bible written by the same man who had presented the video we had just seen.  Apparently the book could be mine for just £14.99, though the video was not included.

So the readers despite my best efforts I have still not got any friends, but the moral of this story is who needs friends when you have got a blog ehhh?


Get a life, get a wife and some manuka honey

December 28, 2008

It is surprising how many attacks you receive when you set up a little old blog. I thought everyone who knew me would be enthused and very interested in the public service I was performing. Unfortunately, some one declared:

Ohhhh …. Puhhhlease … You need a life … Go and get yourself a wife …

Some else commented

Why don’t you look in to the medicinal benefits of manuka honey rather than slag off Gillian McKeith and Professor Patrick Holford?

So this post is dedicated to my critics to prove I’ll investigate and research anything including things as exotic as honey. After all I am a fan of Winnie the Pooh which makes me well-qualified for this research.

According to one article I read

Manuka honey is a natural remedy that actually has some proper research behind it

It is great to know that the “natural” industry – whatever that is! – has actually gone to the trouble of doing some research. However, if the reader scrolls to the bottom of the page, there is a link to buy mauka honey products. Errr … wait a minute before I go to the New Zealand Honey Shop let’s take a little look at the evidence. According to its Wikipedia article

Manuka honey is from bees who feed on the flowers of the Manuka bush , also known as the “Tea Tree” to produce honey that has anti-bacterial properties

So where is this research coming from? Well, there is actually a honey research unit at the University of Waikato in New Zealand. Their mission is to

study the composition of honey and its antimicrobial properties

According to their website they were set up in 1995 with “support from the New Zealand Honey Industry Trust”. Anyway, it would appear from their table of contents that they have a wide range of interests. Currently some of the things they are looking at include: wound dressings for leg ulcers; ezema; gastroenteritis in cattle and pigs; acne; flavonoids in New Zealand honey; and, predictably, finding honey with obligosaccharide constituents that could be growth factors for probiotic bifodoacteria – after all everyone else has entered the probiotic market so why not bee keepers? How long will it be before Patrick Holford writes a book about the benefits of manuka honey? Perhaps The University of Waikato will make him a visiting professor in …. ummm … manuka honey ….

Unfortunately, the attempt of manukaists to take over the world has not all been plain sailing. Apparently, one of their research project actually attracted some criticism and they had to issue a statement

Statements that have been made about the results of the HALT trial on honey dressing on venous leg ulcers (…) give the impression that the results were negative . The reality is that the results were inconclusive, not negative. Honey gave better results than the standard treatment.

Unfortunately, they have to conclude that

statistical analysis showed that these differences could have been due to chance so it cannot be concluded with certainty that honey gave better results

Apparently, more participants were needed which would have the trial more expensive. Possibly the New Zealand Honey Industry Trust could have been asked for a bit more cash? Oh well, just a suggestion.

So what is the evidence for honey? I looked on the food facts section of the British Dietetic Association, the place I usually go for nutritional advice with a good evidence base. Unfortunately, there was nothing there. However, they did a factsheet on wholegrains suggesting that we ate a wholegrain with every meal. Possibly we should have a table spoon a of manuka honey with our wholegrains? Just remember you read it here first. Luckily for us readers The Cochrane Collaboration has done a systematic review on using honey to treat wounds which you can read here. They conclude:

Although honey may improve healing times in mild to moderate superficial and partial thickness burns compared with some conventional dressings, it was found that honey dressings used alongside compression therapy do not significantly increase leg ulcer healing at 12 weeks. There is insufficient evidence to guide clinical practice for other wound types

Due to coverage in the press by The Daily Mail the NHS Knowledge Service felt compelled to cover the issue. They explain the findings of the systematic review in every day language. Apparently, it would appear that at the present time the hype is ahead of the evidence. Still, there do seem to be promising avenues for future research. Possibly one day we won’t need to buy first aid kits we’ll just smear honey over ourselves to treat minor ailments.

Now what about finding that wife …..?

One coincidence after another …

December 21, 2008

Do you remember dear readers how I told you about my seminar with Patrick Holford? Well he was very pleased that Health Products for Life were able to attend. What a coincidence that they were free that evening! They were selling plastic containers with Patrick’s face on them. They were filled with pills coincidentally recommended by Patrick. Mrs Holford was running a book store at the back of the hall. It just so happened all the books were written by her husband.

I have experienced a number of coincidences recently as well. Recently I learnt that David Colquhoun will be in Oxford on the afternoon of Saturday 07 February 2009. Rather coincidentally it appears Andy Lewis of the Quackometer blog will be in town at the same time. Even more bizarrely Oxford Town Hall has a room available for hire on the very same afternoon. By a strange twist of fate I am free that afternoon as well and could bring some coffee and biscuits along if I can find any shops selling such items.

Possibly some of you will be in Oxford as well that day or would that be a coincidence too far ???

A man who really knew about coincidences was the late and much-lamented Professor Richard Feynman:

You know, the most amazing thing happened to me tonight. I was coming here, on the way to the lecture, and I came in through the parking lot. And you won’t believe what happened. I saw a car with the license plate ARW 357. Can you imagine? Of all the millions of license plates in the state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one tonight? Amazing…

Enjoying your food

December 7, 2008

Were you aware that it was recently British Food Fortnight a celebration of British food producers? In this country we are often guilty of selling ourselves short when it comes to food in favour of supposedly superior products from other countries. According to the British Food Fortnight website Britain now produces more cheese than France! Yesterday, I purchased a very nice looking chilli and lime condiment from my local farm shop. I am very looking forward to trying it out on my next Chinese stir fry. I also got myself a bottle of Satan’s Sister – that’s a bottle of beer in case any of you are wondering! There seem to an awful lot of small independent breweries round here producing high quality real ales. I’ll report back to you when I have got through them ..

If you are a supporter of ex-professor Patrick Holford and the Food for the Brain Foundation you may have missed British Food Fortnight. You would have thought they would have been keen on promoting healthy, wholesome and nutritious British food. Apparently not as they have certainly not sent out any emails promoting it recently. Perhaps the commission being offered was not high enough? I found a very interesting article on The Guardian website which made me wonder if celebrity nutritionists actually like food very much. Journalist Rachel Cooke went to interview Gillian McKeith. (Her full correct academic title as Ben Goldacre pointed out is actually Gillian McKeith.) She gained the impression that, dare we say it, Dr [sic] McKeith was not very healthy:

She is famously tiny woman, but even so, there is something papery about her skin; when she shakes my hands, I feel bones wrapped in parchment. She would no doubt laugh out loud at the suggestion that she is absolutely famished but, beyond all the wild enthusiasm and the preaching and the ‘positive energy’, this is precisely what she radiates. She looks hungry.

After listening to Dr [sic] McKeith Ms Cooke concludes that:

the real problem with her is that she is so anti-life. Food is about history, and culture, and ritual (…) there is so little that is celebratory ..

I very much enjoy visiting Basingstoke Farmers’ Market. It would be great to take ex-professor Holford there with me. How about a bottle of English apple juice? No too much sugar! Or some freshly made doughnuts? Also too much sugar. For some reason he seems to have a grudge against sugar. How about some minced beef or pork sausages. No, meat is unhealthy for reasons not too clear. How about some Cotswold cheese? No, apparently you will develop a dairy allergy if you eat too much. Ahhh yes, he does like his berries doesn’t he? Raspberry Mr Holford?

Michael Pollan in his recent book In Defence of Food suggests there is a real problem with he calls nutritionalism:

In the case of nutritionism, the widely shared but unexamined assumption is that the key to understanding food is indeed the nutrient. Put another way: Foods are essentially the sum of their nutrient parts.” (In Defence of Food, p.28)

He goes on to declare:

[P]eople don’t eat nutrients; they eat foods, and foods can behave very differently from the nutrients they contain.

He then goes on talk about how certain supplements may actually increase mortality. Do you remember the Cochrane Collaboration’s report earlier this year?

The quest of our celebrity nutritionist friends, people like Patrick Holford and Gillian McKeith is to find the ideal combination of nutrients to create the ideal diet. If that were genuinely possible you would possibly expect to find that different kind of diets would produce different health outcomes. Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case. Human beings appear to be able to survive on a wide variety of diets. Think of the Greeks and the so-called Mediterranean diet, Scottish crofters and their oats or the Inuit who eat a diet rich in fish. Pollan coins an interesting term when discussing the current nutritional related health problems in the western world: the Western Diet. The Western Diet is high in processed food. Are celebrity nutritionists part of the solution to this problem? Down at my local supermarket you can find a Gillian McKeith Vitamin C bar. Can you think of better sources of vitamin C? Possibly you might like to buy an orange? However, according to Ben Goldacre our friend ex-professor Holford believes some supermarket oranges do not contain any vitamin C. (It is there in black and white in the latest edition of The Optimum Nutrition Bible.) Rather coincidentally, you can get some vitamin C pills from Health Products for Life the company he recently sold to Biocare for £464,000 Goldacre invites Holford to send a vitamin C-free orange to him care of his publishers. (Note – send the orange to Ben NOT me.) Truly I hope things have not quite got that bad! Pollan points out:

Most consumers automatically assume that the word “organic” is synonamous with health, but it makes no difference to your insulin metabolism if the high-fructose corn syrup in your soda is organic. (In Defence of Food, p.178)

Nearly a year ago The World Cancer Research published a report Food, Nutrition, Physical Acitivity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective on lifestyle and cancer. The idea was to do a systematic review and look at all the available data on lifestyle and cancer, though readers of The Daily Mail could be forgiven for thinking the report was simply about demonizing bacon! Their conclusions tie in very well with what Pollan recommend in “In Defence of Food”, for example,

limit consumption of processed food with added salt (p. xx).

The report informs us

Rates of overweight and obesity doubled in many high-income countries between 1990 and 2005” (p. xvii)

It is very depressing that having conquered malnutrition in the Western world many of us are eating ourselves to death. The sad thing is that celebrity nutritionists and their army of admirers are playing on our fears. For example, Dr [sic] Gillian McKeith offers us a detox potion available for more than £15 from our local supermarket. So what can we do?

Be subversive. Don’t pill buy the pills and potions offered by the lifestyle gurus. Eat lots of fresh fruit, vegetables and wholegrains. Check out local suppliers who you might miss if you rely on supermarket advertising. Get a bit of exercise. (In a few weeks I’ll tell you how to get 40% off the retail value of a bicycle.) Above all cook your own meals from scratch then you’ll be the one doing all the processing! Possibly you could even grow your own vegetables or better still get them from a member of your family who does. Enjoy your meal !!