Book Review: Are you looking forward to Christmas… or just wanting to survive it?

Rick Phillips, one of our fellow bloggers, has enjoyed reading Lene Anderson’s book Chronic Christmas, which gives some tips for the less enthusiastic among us on how to make the best of Christmas.

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capture_313x480I was so excited to hear about Chronic Christmas Surviving the Holidays with a Chronic  Illness.  It came to me at exactly the right time of year, and I was in the mood for some fun and practical advice about the holiday season.  When this book arrived in the mail, I was excited to see what Lene might share to help me find that contentment and excitement about the holiday season.  As a person with choric conditions, I sometimes have difficulty getting into the season.  Lene’s words helped me discover some reasons I feel out of step with the rest of the world and gave me practical advice about how to overcome some of my barriers.

Lene shares such wonderful tips for slowing down and basking in the goodness of the holiday season.  Her writing style is easy; her essays are well conceived, and the result is a partial guide to managing the Christmas season with a good touch of fun.  She manages to capture the season in short bursts of narrative that can make even the grumpiest old man find his inner goodness.  Here are a few chapters that especially spoke to me.

December 2, Pace Yourself When Eating.

As a person with diabetes, I often feel left out of the annual celebrations because I see others enjoying food while I enjoy the Television.  In this chapter, Lene reinforces the well know notion that the holidays are not about the food.  Rather they are about who is eating the food.  Her chapter gives me permission to enjoy those who are at the gathering instead of the food at the gathering.   I think it is sometimes difficult for people with diabetes to know this and Lene approached the subject in a way that offers constructive tips.  For instance:

“Moderation is key, Instead of five pieces of Candy stick to one (okay, two).” (Andersen, 2016, p. 7).

“Instead of four glasses of eggnog, have one per occasion and drink sparkling water or tea for the rest of the evening. And so on. You won’t feel deprived. And you won’t stand out as that one person who’s nibbling on a lettuce leaf, making the other guests feel bad for scarfing down everything in sight.” (Andersen, 2016, pp. 7-8)

chronic-christmas-back_314x480December 8, Say Hello

Lene reminds us that we need not remain isolated because we have a chronic condition.  She suggests we try an experiment to break out of our shell.  She suggests that on December 8 we leave the book or earphones at home and practice looking up and out at the world.  She suggests we should look at and marvel in the crowds as they pass by.  She reminds me that people watching is both entertaining and a great way to connect to the world at large.  (Andersen, 2016).  This is great advice for the many times we feel isolated or somewhat alone in the world.  After all, connection is what the holiday season is all about.

For the person who cares about the person with a chronic condition Lene suggests that they offer a drive or a trip to a coffee shop to help people get out in the world.  She suggests:

“Chat with each other, but reach out to others as well. The people at the next table, the clerk, a security guard. Slow down, take the time, exchange a few words. You could very well make someone’s day and you might meet someone really interesting” (Andersen, 2016, p. 35).

These are terrific ideas for helping both ourselves and others.  In fact, opening up during the holidays might make everything brighter.  Lene’s advice gives us the reminder that we need not be isolated while others are engaged in the business of the season.

December 21 – Celebrate Disasters

For me, this was the best advice of the book.  When we celebrate disasters, we have a built in mechanism to make sure things go right.   I love how Lene starts this chapter:

“What do you remember from past Christmases — the times everything went according to plan or the moments when imperfection snuck into the celebrations? We work so hard to make the holidays perfect, but that’s not what makes for enduring family legends. You know the type — the ones that get told and retold, with everyone talking over each other, adding details, and laughing together. Those stories always originate in disasters” (Andersen, 2016, p. 93)

I totally agree with her observation.  The real stories of the season are the ones that revolve around disasters.  So I took this chapter as the best advice I received from Lene’s’ book.    This year, I vow to celebrate the many disasters in my life past, present and future. I will take time to celebrate this year: the time the lock was frozen on the storage barn where I stored the Christmas presents or the time the cat climbed/knocked over the Christmas tree because doing so can prolong the celebration of the season.

So how do I feel about Lene’s book?  I loved it.  You can pick it up on Amazon or Barnes and Noble along with some other retailers.   It is a great gift for those who love people with chronic conditions or those of us who live with chronic conditions.  I am glad I treated myself to this book, and I hope you will as well.   Reading it is way too much fun to miss.

References

 Andersen, L. (2016). Chronic Christmas Surviving the Holidays with a Chronic  Illness. Toronto Two North Books

 

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Book review: Chimpanzee Politics by Frans De Waal

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This book was first written in 1982 and has stayed in print since. It was updated for its 25th Anniversary and this was the version that I read. What makes this book about a group of chimpanzees in a Dutch Zoo so popular with humans?

Chimpanzees are man’s closest ape relatives. We have only 2% difference in our DNA. Chimpanzees are about the same size as humans but are much stronger and have much more developed teeth, especially the adult males, who have canine teeth to rival a panther’s. Chimpanzees are much more acrobatic than humans and make excellent use of both hands and feet. One important difference is that they, and gorillas, cannot swim.

Like humans, they live in social groups that are hierarchically based and that are designed to maximise the well- being of the group and deter potential rivals for territory and food. They can be very aggressive indeed and hunt, kill and even eat other monkeys alive. They can mutilate and kill humans and other chimpanzees and can be highly unpredictable. For this reason humans at the zoo only had direct contact with infant and juvenile chimpanzees.

Interactions between the different individual adult males and females and juvenile chimpanzees were systematically recorded over a period of years. Hierarchy was determined by a development of subservience behaviour in the form of oral greetings and dominant behaviour in the form of displays and assaults.  Making up, coalitions, friendly and dominance behaviour were common.  In general male adults have the capacity to do more damage but they tend to reign in their aggression, whereas female adults are somewhat less powerful but tend to do a lot more damage in fights.

The leader of the pack, the alpha male, has more opportunity to mate with the females. Males lower in the hierarchy, may or may not be allowed to mate by the alpha male, but sex on the side can be arranged by the support and deceit of a helpful female.

Although the appearance, voice and behaviour patterns of each chimpanzee is individual, it is not usually possible for any male chimpanzee to be sure of the parentage of offspring in the group, since multiple matings often occur.  The adult male chimpanzees will curry favour with the females by grooming them and tickling and playing with the babies. Sometimes however, like male lions, and humans, they will kill infant chimpanzees.

What I found fascinating about this book is the way that human behaviour mirrors chimpanzee behaviour so closely.  We have better language and tool skills than chimpanzees, and our group activities are much more organised, but every day you will see behaviour that you clearly recognise as parallel to our hairier and not much less aggressive relations.

Book review and discussion: What experts say about solving the obesity epidemic

“The shape we are in: how junk food and diets are shortening our lives” by journalist Sarah Boseley is a £13 paperback in which many of the factors that have contributed to the obesity epidemic are discussed.

For much of her material Sarah has gone to obesity “experts” but not a single low carber.  So she has ended up with a  different opinion from what we may have on the causes of the massive surge in obesity over the last 30 years.  Although I don’t share the government “experts” view as to the benefits of a low fat diet,  I think that reading the opinion of “the other side” is a good way to broaden my view and possibly learn a few things that could actually improve the situation. With this in mind I was looking for what I recognise is familiar and  true and also had a chuckle at some of the material as well.

Very little was contentious. I have starred * my own contributions (which I would have given had she interviewed me!)

Behavioural changes at family/individual level: 

Eat meals at meal times at a table with your family. Make meals from proper food. Not processed junk.

Stop dieting and eat good food all the time.

Reduce the amount of processed food that we eat.

Do 45 minutes or more exercise a day to improve mood and use calories.

Don’t snack or eat only healthy snacks such as nuts, cheese and fruit.

Stair climb and walk at every opportunity.

Health service changes:

Offer cognitive behavioural therapy to the overweight.

Expand the provision of bariatric counselling and probably offer this at younger ages.

Advertise the futility and actual harm of crash diets and make such an idea an object of ridicule.

Advise on muscle building exercise for all*

Advise on the benefits on health and physique of the low carb diet*

Educational changes:

Teach cooking in primary school and beyond.

Expand the range of foods served in schools.

Stop serving puddings in schools.

Political changes: 

Tax sugary drinks.

Stop junk food sponsorship of sports events.

Have proper labelling of food.

Subsidise fresh, wholesome food.

Ban sugary food in schools hospitals and workplaces.

Put in cycle paths, street lighting, pavements and redesign towns to make walking attractive.

Have stairs, showers and secure bike parks in offices.

Limit fast food advertising especially to children.

Give proper meal breaks in the workplace.

Put calories/carbs on drinks as well as food.

Food production and service changes:

Reduce portion sizes.

Stop check out sweets and goodies marketed to children.

Stop buy one get one free promotions.

Cut salt, sugar and fat in manufactured foods.

Get food manufacturers to produce more genuinely healthy products.

Decrease plate sizes at buffets.

Actually, I don’t have any gripe with these.  I would simply say that my idea of good food is meat/fish/eggs/cheese/nuts/veg and some fruit with butter, cream, olive, coconut and avocado oil NOT starch, fruit juice, industrial fats. I would also prioritise weight /resistance training over cardio because it make you burn more calories, makes you stronger, doesn’t wear out your joints, and reduces osteoporosis better than cardio.

As you can see the obesity problem and therefore solution is multi-factorial. There are things we can do ourselves, but there  is a much wider framework regarding political will, town planning, working hours and facilities, food manufacturing and advertising, food costing, and education by health services, schools and the media.

We can’t go back to the so called “Good Old Days” like this attractive, affluent, family circa 1949. Will the government get so fed up with the devastating health bill that that they will take some of the steps outlined in Sarah’s book? Or will corporate interests, the low fat/high starch dogma and the high working hours culture win out?

Would older men and women be better off with a bit more testosterone?

Book Review:  Testosterone is your friend by Roger Mason.

This slim volume, written by research chemist Roger Mason, reviews  evidence for testosterone replacement in both  men and women. Up until the age of 30, both genders do pretty well, but after that it is a slow trundle downhill as far as our sex hormones go. By our 50’s men produce more oestradiol than their same aged wives do, and a multitude of problems that we consider “just normal ageing” develop.

Men don’t get problems from high levels of testosterone,  but do get problems when the levels go too low.  Women do best with  mid range levels about 2.1 free testosterone. Levels of 1-3.2 are considered normal range in the UK.

Should you wish to supplement levels  sublingual or transdermal preparations work well,  but injected, implant and oral tablets do not.

Too low levels of testosterone cause obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, heart and artery disease, cancers, memory loss and sexual dysfunction. When levels are normalised to those found in your average 30 year old for both genders, benefits include an improved all cause total mortality, increased lean muscle mass, lower cholesterol, stronger bones, lower body fat, and higher HDL.  Mood, blood sugars, energy and sense of well being all improve. Prostate enlargement and prostate cancer can be reduced by replacing testosterone in men in good time. Skin, hair and immunity all improve.  Blood pressure is improved in women if the mid range level  is achieved. Testosterone reduces seizure threshold in epileptics.

Studies are reviewed which indicate that all these assertions are valid. So why is testosterone replacement therapy lagging behind so much compared to oestrogen replacement? Indeed the only testosterone preparation licenced for women in the UK was taken off the market in the last couple of years due to being a marketing failure.

As a GP I can say that testosterone replacement for men is getting off the ground but not in the pro-active way that oestrogen is given to peri-menopausal and post meno-pausal women. Instead we wait till problematic symptoms occur eg breast enlargement in men, diabetes in men of normal weight, or sexual dysfunction occurs. Then we test. Then we refer to over subscribed clinics and the man eventually gets prescribed something suitable. It is a true case of shutting the barn door after the horse…..etc.

The main thing that put me off prescribing for men was that the fine print said that I had to do a digital rectal examination on such men every six months in order to detect possible prostatic cancer. From what Mr Mason says, it would look as if testing and treating men over the age of 40 could make a big difference not just to prostate health but for a very wide range of health problems. It should be remembered that these diseases all seem to have their own very expensive screening programmes, drug and surgical treatments in place. Perhaps a single bullet aimed at the core problem would be less expensive overall?

When it comes to women, after the menopause there is a dwindling amount of testosterone and secreted by the ovary and after a surgical removal of the ovaries or hysterectomy there is rapidly none. The adrenal glands are able to secrete some testosterone, but not enough. Collagen loss, bladder problems, wrinkles, weaker bones, loss of muscle and gaining of fat and all the rest follow on. There is increasing interest in adding testosterone into HRT prescriptions but at present women need to use preparations licenced only for men and not all GPs are therefore willing to prescribe.

In my own practice, several of us are using these preparations and checking our prescribing with blood tests done at monthly intervals till we hit the right dose. As a rough guide, men need 8 squirts of Testogel daily and women need 3. This will usually give deficient men and women adequate levels, but since this is not a developed area, follow up blood tests are needed to individualise the dose.

What about our three lovely ladies here? They are just having a natter about their new year resolution. They have been off to the  gym weight training for an entire month now and are a bit disappointed with their results. The middle one is telling the blonde that at least her bicep is coming along better than her glutes. No doubt they are hacked off that it is so much easier for their boyfriends with all that testosterone running around.   It’s so unfair!!!

Book Review: The world turned upside down, the second low carbohydrate revolution by Professor Richard Feinman

Well produced book for the scientifically minded reader

By Katharine Morrison

This book covers in detail subjects that are often ignored in other low carb books. These are the precise biochemistry covering the metabolism of carbs, fats and proteins in humans and the flaws regarding diet trials covering both design and statistics.

Richard Feinman is a professor in a New York university who is at ease with both subjects. His writing is erudite and not always that easy to follow for the non scientist, as he delves into areas of complexity that other authors gloss over.

There are many coloured tables and I think this book is best read on kindle for pc or on paper format as they show up better in full page and colour format. I think this book is aimed for students, doctors, scientists, diabetologists, cardiologists, and nutritionists who think they know what they are doing but who still support a high starch/ low fat diet for people in general and diabetics in particular. They will be able to see exactly where they have been led astray by old ideas that do not stand up to serious scrutiny.

This book is particularly well produced and I did not come across a single typo in the entire text.

There is much to satisfy those who have already converted to the low carbohydrate lifestyle who wish to learn more about the history, science and statistical shennanigans that go on with dietary studies into low carbohydrate diets.  For new comers it is not a “how to do it book”, like ours. There is a recipe section but it is a bit thin and disappointing. Perhaps Professor Feinman hasn’t spent as long in the kitchen as Emma and I have!