Category Archives: health

Health and well-being

Last June 19 – 22 was Well-Being Week at the European Parliament and there were exhibitions and information sessions held to inspire and help people to be healthy and happy. June 21 was Music Festival not only in France and Luxembourg but in many parts of the world, and it made many people joyful. June 22 was UN International Yoga Day and it highlighted the useful contribution of yoga to humankind’s healthy lifestyle that is harmonious with nature. In Luxembourg, the 23rd was a public holiday as it was the country’s national day filled with festivities, food stalls, concerts, fireworks and merrymaking.

These were different events, but had similar goals, which were to inform, entertain and encourage people to relax and be peaceful– important for our well-being. When we are happy and peaceful, we are stressed-resistant and our immune system functions favourably maintaining a healthy body and mind. My adult students recently did a class project on health and well-being, and concluded that “Healthy workplaces are positive and positive workplaces are healthy.”

You may argue that achieving a work-life balance isn’t easy as it doesn’t only involve you and there are issues beyond your control, such as a demanding job and/or boss. Rightly so, however, this one person (YOU) has choices. We can have positive daily work experience in the midst of deadlines, not-so-caring supervisor and uncooperative or annoying colleagues. At home, relationships can be improved by having open communication, by being honest and respectful, and by showing more empathy and understanding. We have different levels of optimism, but even a half-empty glass has a space that can be filled. If everyone contributes to filling this, it does not take long for it to be full again.

On the global level, The World Economic Forum (Matthieu Ricard https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/09/5-ways-to-improve-the-well-being-of-the-world/) has identified 5 ways to improve health and well-being: Increasing support to mental health (addressing mental ailments account for only a small part of the health budget of developed nations); Cooperation (need to move to the next level of partnership to face the many challenges of our times. Solidarity and reciprocity that nurture harmonious relationships); Caring economics (“economy must exist to serve society, not to be served by society. It must also benefit society as a whole”. There should be a pragmatic action to achieve a fair economy and long-term harmony); Promoting altruism (“Happiness and satisfaction are measured in terms of a generation, encompassing our life plan, our career and our family. Whether or not we are happy depends not only on external conditions but also on the ways in which our mind interprets these conditions as happiness or misery”); A new economic harmony (“a situation that guarantees everyone a decent way of life and reduces inequality at the same time as ceasing to exploit the planet at such a drastic rate.” Material abundance doesn’t equate to happiness and well-being.

My students entitled their class project “You only live once” — living to the fullest in terms of being healthy and happy, but without excesses. Did you know that the global consumption of alcohol was 6.3 litres of pure alcohol per person ages 15 and older in 2015, which was equivalent to 3 litres of beer (4 percent alcohol) a week? The highest consumption was in Europe and Central Asia (10.2 litres of pure alcohol per person a year); and lowest in the Middle East and North Africa (0.8 litres). (http://datatopics.worldbank.org/sdgatlas/SDG-03-good-health-and-well-being.html).

As you may know, too much alcohol drinking can take a serious toll on our health and well-being. For instance, it can weaken our immune system hence making our body susceptible to diseases. It’s summer time here in Europe and it’s a real temptation to grab a cold beer or softdrinks. The former is tonic but can also cause ill-health. According to the Harvard School of Public Health (www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthydrinks/focus.html), the long-term effects of artificially sweetened drinks on weight and health are unknown. Thus, if you drink these, be reasonable! Water is much cheaper and absolutely good for our body – about 8 glasses per day. You can, of course, quench your thirst by drinking coffee and tea without sugar or cream.The Harvard School of Public Health has also revealed that even 100% fruit juice should be consumed with moderation (no more than a glass a day) as though it has vitamins, it’s also high in calories.

Take care.. Enjoy your summer!

Living charitably and wisely

It was a rainy day in the morning of November 5, and there was already a queue at our local theatre hall. A young lady opened the door and helped me find the umbrella rack. She said, “I’ve never seen these many people eager to donate blood, especially on a gloomy day like this.” I remarked, “It might be the warmth and dryness that have brought them here.”

After over an hour of waiting and filling in the 4-page questionnaire, the doctor told me politely that I could not donate blood because I’m less than 50kg. I was surprised and disappointed thus as soon as I got home, I checked online to make sure that it had nothing to do with reasons other than weight.

Yes, it’s true that donors are required to have the minimum weight of 50kg for a minimum of 400ml of blood for the blood bag to contain the sufficient therapeutic dose (as the doctor had explained to me).

I was really looking forward to it that I had ample breakfast to help me avoid feeling unwell or fainting; consequently, I had to delay lunch.

The Etablissement Français du Sang – EFS (French National Blood Service) is responsible for the collection of all types of blood donation and takes all precautions to ensure that donations (whether they be whole blood, platelet, plasma, and bone marrow or cord blood) are done in high quality and safety conditions for both donors and receivers.

While queuing I heard that about 14% of the French population donate blood annually. People between the ages of 18 and 70 can donate blood. After the age of 60, however, all donations require the approval of an EFS doctor.

I should have found out first about requirements for donors. I didn’t because I was certain I could as I’m in good health and don’t take any medication. If I had checked, I would have not gone there and written this blog.

One of the questions was: “Did you visit or live in Great Britain from 1980 to 1996?” Well, I couldn’t remember, so I ticked the “don’t know” box. (Blood donation is prohibited for people who have lived in Great Britain for over 12 accumulative months between 1980 and 1996 due to a theoretical risk of transmitting bovine spongiform encephalopathy or “mad cow’s disease”).

A friend later that night asked me why I wanted to donate blood. She nodded vehemently when I told her that it was one of the ways I could show my sons how to be caring, generous and considerate of others. Donated blood saves lives of many people and it’s a privilege to be part of this. As well, it has good health benefits.

One of the most-cited health benefits of donating blood is reduced risk of cancer and hemochromatosis (condition that arises due to excess absorption of iron by the body). Furthermore, donating blood helps reduce the risk of damage to liver and pancreas, reduce obesity and may improve cardiovascular health.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) (http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs279/en/):
• About half of the 112.5 million blood donations collected globally are from high-income countries (home to 19% of the world’s population).
• The rate of blood donation in high-income countries is 33.1 donations per 1000 people; 11.7 donations in middle-income countries and 4.6 donations in low-income countries.
• Up to 65% of blood transfusions in low-income countries are given to children under 5 years of age. In high-income countries, the most frequently transfused patients are over 65 years of age (up to 76% of all transfusions).

It’s this time of the year (i.e. December) when we give or exchange presents. This traditional show of generosity and friendliness should extend beyond material possessions. Why not spend a few hours helping charities raise funds, feed the needy, etc.? How about donating blood? (If you’re a blood donor, you’re a hero to someone, somewhere, who received your gracious gift of life. https://viralknot.com/top-10-quotes-on-blood-donation-to-promote-blood-donation/).

May the rest of 2016 be peaceful and joyful for you and your loved ones. I greet you good health and happiness throughout 2017; and that all your needs be fulfilled and most of your wants granted.

Common sense (or lack of ) on expired medication

(Last June 23, the British people voted to leave the European Union after being a member for more than 40 years, which is historic and has implications in the world politically, economically and socio-culturally. The 2016 Euro Football is on and the excitement will surely go beyond the finals on July 10. Ten percent of Island’s population of about 330,000 are currently in France cheering for their national team. However, neither is the subject of my July article).

There were more rainy than sunny days in my region last month. As in previous spring months, I took the pleasure organising not only my wardrobe but cabinets and cupboards. I was heartbroken putting outdated medicines in a paper bag. I thought of bringing these to the chemist (UK)/pharmacy (US) on my way to work, but the queue was half a kilometre long and my bus was about 5 minutes from departing, so I ended up bringing this with me to a nearby country (where I work) that does not legally obliged chemists to take unwanted or expired medicines.

Arriving in the classroom, the first thing I did was to ask my students if they knew of the nearby chemist that accept expired drugs. Co-incidentally, one of them actually took an expired aspirin that morning and she said that she had done this before and it was effective in getting rid of her headache.
The other two students asked me if we can still consume drugs after their use-by date. The Harvard Medical School has reported Psychopharmacology Today’s advice that a drug is absolutely 100% effective even when the expiration date has passed a few years.

According to Psychopharmacology Today, most of what is known about drug expiration dates comes from a study conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration for the military, and this study found that 90% of more than 100 drugs (both prescription and over-the-counter) were perfectly good to use even after 15 years of its expiration date (except nitro-glycerine, insulin and liquid antibiotics), and placing a medication in a cool place (such as a refrigerator) will help drugs remain potent for many years.

(Do you wonder about the role of manufacturers and those in the market chain regarding the use-by or expiration date?)

Experts maintain that use-by or expiration date is an easiest and most conservative way of ensuring the safest way of selling and consuming medicines and food. Generally, current informed opinion is that most drugs are classified as out-of-dated two years after their manufacture and this expiration date is only valid for unopened product. There are ample write-ups on this topic, such as the one published in http://www.emedexpert.com/tips/expired-meds.shtml that says contrary to common belief, there is little scientific evidence that expired drugs are toxic. “There are virtually no reports of toxicity from degradation products of outdated drugs.”

It’s in developed countries that reimburse medication as part of their social security and health systems where unused and expired medicines are in abundance. In the Third World, where treatment is not subsidised or/and reimbursed by the State and quite expensive, medicines are bought only when in dire need and on limited quantity.

This is what I said to my students: “I’d take expired medication for a minor ill-health, like hay fever (which I’ve at the moment) or headache. However, I’ll definitely not take it for a chronic and potentially life-threatening disease, e.g. seizure or heart problems.”

If expired drugs are safe for human consumption, why not donate these to charities at home and abroad? It’s not that simple. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and some individuals and associations are against the donation of expired medicines because they believe that there shouldn’t be a double standard when it comes to donation, i.e. if the quality of an item is unacceptable in the donour country, it is also unacceptable in the receiving nation as outlined in the Guidelines for Medicine Donations Revised 2010. (http://www.who.int/hac/techguidance/guidelines_for_drug_donations).

If in doubt, just bring your expired drugs and medicines to your local chemist/pharmacy. If your local chemist doesn’t accept this, ask him/her if s/he knows one that does this (i.e. sorts and stores them in specific boxes to donate to charities and NGOs, and/or deposits unsuitable drugs on sites with approved incinerator where these are burned at 1200°C to avoid the risk of pollution or reuse).

We should never throw expired medicines in a bin at home (as I was about to do due to laziness), sink, toilet or elsewhere because traces of these will likely to end up in our groundwater and agricultural fields endangering our environment and health.

Consumption of dietary and vitamin supplements is cultural

Getting into a chemist (Oceania and the UK)/pharmacy (US) in Australia, you notice immediately the wide range of dietary and vitamin supplements occupying almost a third of the store. There are a variety of choices from A to Z of brands locally and internationally. But, in France and Luxembourg this is not the case. Often, you have to ask the staff for common vitamin supplements, such as Omega 3 and grape seed tablets, which are stocked between beauty products and medicines. In developing countries of Asia, Africa and Central & South America, these are highly unaffordable for most people. Surprisingly, however, the Nielsen study showed that Asians (and North Americans) lead the world in the usage of dietary and vitamin supplements with the highest levels found in the Philippines and Thailand (66% compared to 56% in the USA). Europe (30%) and Latin America (28%) had the lowest intake (France and Spain at the bottom: 17% and 13% respectively). The respondents’ main reason for not taking vitamins was that “their diets were already balanced while those in Poland, Russia and the Baltic states felt that “it is too difficult to understand which product to use.” (http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2009/north-america-asia-lead-vitamin-and-supplement-usage.htm).

It is known that, generally, Europeans have poor vitamin D. A comparative study of eating habits and calcium & vitamin D intakes in Central-Eastern European countries conducted by the Faculty of Health Sciences in Semmelweis University, Hungary headed by Dr. Katalin Tátrai-Nèmeth concluded that the highest calcium intake was in the Hungarian population while the lowest in Slovenia, and vitamin D intake was critically low in both of these countries. (http://www. czytelniamedyczna.pl/5290,a-comparative-study-of-eating-habits-calcium-and-vitamin-d-intakes-in-the-popula.html).

As my biological age increases, I become more interested in multi/vitamin supplements and have actually started taking them to boost my immune system and cope with the passing of time. I have always followed a nutritious diet, have low cholesterol, high energy level and good Mass Body Index, and so probably don’t need vitamin supplements. Therefore, for me, “consumption” is the right word to describe my endeavour to feel better.

Many experts maintain that vitamin supplements can improve many bodily functions and mental health, help decrease stress and improve mood. I, too, believe that these supplements can help solve nutrient deficiency that may cause ill health. However, some of these are simply excreted by our body if we consume more than we need. According to the many articles that I have read, some of them, such as niacin and vitamins A, B-6, C and D, even have negative effects when taken in high amounts (e.g. stomach upset, itching, headache and kidney stone).

Whatever your reason for taking dietary and vitamin supplements, ensure that you have a healthy, balanced diet and stay within the Recommended Daily Amounts (RDAs). As well, read their labels carefully keeping an eye on the dose, ingredients and expiry date. Next time you visit your doctor, ask her/his opinion about your needs and your consumption (and if you have not started yet, seek advice before doing so).

Meanwhile, the following necessary nutrients and vitamins are found in your vegetables and fruits:

Vitamin A (for growth and development of cells, prevention of eye problems and keeping a healthy skin) – e.g. milk, eggs, liver, green vegetables, apricots, mangoes, papayas and peaches.

Vitamin B1 (Thiamin – helps the body convert carbohydrates into energy and is necessary for the heart, muscles and nervous system to function properly) – e.g. pasta and whole grains like wheat germ, lean meats, dried beans, soy foods and peas.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin which is essential for growth, turning carbohydrates into energy and producing red blood cells) – e.g. meat, eggs, broccoli, legumes (like peas and lentils), nuts, dairy products and green leafy vegetables.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin – helps the body turn food into energy and is important for nerve function) – e.g. red meat, poultry, fish, peanuts and fortified cereals.

Vitamin B6 (essential for brain and nerve function and helps the body break down proteins and make red blood cells) – e.g. fortified cereals, potatoes,
bananas, beans, seeds, nuts, red meat, poultry, fish, eggs and spinach.

Vitamin B9 (Folate or folic acid is needed to make DNA and helps the body make red blood cells) – e.g. orange juice, liver, dried beans and other legumes, and green leafy vegetables.

Vitamin B12 (helps to make red blood cells and is important for nerve cell function) – e.g. fish, red meat, poultry, milk, cheese and eggs.

Vitamin C (also called ascorbic acid is essential for healthy bones, teeth, gums, and blood vessels and contributes to healthy brain function) – e.g. citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi, guava, peppers, broccoli, tomatoes and spinach.

Vitamin D (‘sunlight’ strengthens bones by absorbing bone-building calcium) – e.g. egg yolks, oily fish such as salmon and sardines, and fortified foods like orange juice and milk.

Vitamin E (an antioxidant that protects cells from damage and aids red blood cells) – e.g. vegetable oils, nuts, avocadoes, whole grains and green leafy vegetables.

Without Vitamin K, we could bleed to death from a simple cut. In elderly people, Vitamin K helps maintain bone strength; and this can be found in asparagus, kale, spinach, turnips, Brussels sprouts, parsley and broccoli.

Let’s enjoy our food, look after our body and mind, and be happy without doing something to someone that we don’t want done to us.