Archive | February, 2014

Cholesterol and diet

28 Feb

I had a health check-up recently, shortly after my sixtieth birthday. OK I admit it, I was a bit bad. I was drinking too much, eating too much and was sat at my desk too much, not taking enough exercise. My blood cholesterol level was also raised, especially the LDL (Low Density Lipids), which are the BAD ones. Also, my blood pressure was a little raised. I am overweight. A couple of days I received a booklet produced by The British Heart Foundation entitled ‘Reducing your blood cholesterol’. Page 14 has the title ‘What causes high blood cholesterol?’, and the first sentence reads ‘A common cause of high blood cholesterol levels in people in the UK is eating too much saturated fat‘. Now I’m no scientist, but I do know a bit about the way things work. Complex fats are difficult to absorb through the gut lining. They need to be broken down by the digestive process into simpler, smaller molecules. So I did a bit more research.

This is from the advice given by BUPA. The emphasis is mine.

“Sources of cholesterol

There are two different sources of cholesterol – some comes from the food you eat, but most of it is made within your body.

Cholesterol that comes from the food you eat is called dietary cholesterol. Not many foods actually contain cholesterol. Examples of some that do are:

  • eggs
  • liver
  • kidney
  • prawns

If you eat foods that are high in cholesterol, it won’t usually raise your blood cholesterol level much. Most cholesterol is made within your body, in your liver. Your liver can produce all of the cholesterol your body needs so dietary cholesterol isn’t an essential part of your diet. Your cholesterol levels are mainly influenced by the other fats that you eat.”

It turns out that the proportion of cholesterol produced in the liver is roughly 85%, and cholesterol from, or rather via, your diet is 15%. The only fats that are really bad for you in terms of causing cholesterol production in the liver are hardened vegetable fats, which are common in cooking margarines and are therefore present in cakes, biscuits and pastry. Avoid these trans-fatty acids like a really bad smell. They are unnatural and your body cannot deal with them. Oh, and your body needs cholesterol for all sorts of functions, though this is mostly the higher density variety.

Now, I am not really doubting the link between very high LDL cholesterol levels and CHD (Coronary Heart Disease), but the research seems to have been based on initial experiments carried out on chickens and rabbits, which were fed very high levels of saturated animal fat. As rabbits do not have to metabolise saturated fats in their normal diet, the results of this experiment are essentially invalid.

Moreover, ethnic groups whose diets are very high in saturated animal fats, such as the Masai of Kenya, have low blood cholesterol levels. If they move to Nairobi and adopt a western way of life their levels rise as ours do. Perhaps we should be looking for other factors for this rise.

I already know I have a familial link to high LDL cholesterol inherited from my mother. I was put on statins about eighteen years ago to reduce my LDL cholesterol. The side effects were stomach cramps which prevented me sleeping and made me quite ill. So I stopped taking them. I have been told that the new stains have much reduced side effects. But I still won’t take them. Just to make another point, people with very low levels of blood cholesterol are far more likely to suffer CHD than those with slightly raised levels.

I have put myself on a reasonably strict diet and have stopped drinking. In a fortnight I have dropped five pounds in weight. I am taking regular daily exercise, which seems to help. The weight target I have set myself is still above my supposed ‘ideal’ weight of 10.5 stone (147 pounds). My father died of CHD, and he weighed about 8.5 stone (119 pounds). While this example is not statistically valid, it is the example I have. I will get down to a weight that is well within my healthy limits and be more physically active. The ‘one size fits all’ model is crap. I have broad shoulders, a deep chest, a big arse and short legs. For me to be 147 pounds would not be healthy.

The other major causes of CHD are smoking, hypertension, alcohol consumption, diabetes, raised blood pressure, lack of exercise and stress. I would be a little less stressed out if the advice I was provided with were a little more accurate and far less preachy. The rest of these I can manage to control or avoid. The message I am given is inaccurate and muddled. Or is there some kind of sympathetic magic I am supposed to believe in which directly links dietary fat with LDL cholesterol, like sticking pins in a voodoo doll?

There are food products which can lower your cholesterol slightly, these being put, largely, into yoghurts and margarine. Unfortunately, I am sensitive to cow’s milk, that is I am bovine lactose intolerant. I can happily drink goat’s milk, I just don’t care for it much. Lactose is found in the whey powder used in margarines and in yoghurts. You see my problem here. Incidentally, there is no lactose in hard cheese and almost none in butter, two major sources of saturated fat. Lactose is found in whey, not curds, and in buttermilk but not butter. Also, there are health warnings about using these cholesterol lowering foods, so I don’t think I will use them. They are also incredibly expensive when you consider the active ingredient is a by-product of the timber industry and is virtually cost-free. They are a con, designed to rip you off. I recommend using oat bran instead.

Now I won’t go so far as to suggest that the multi-national companies which produce statins have rigged the data in order to sell more of their product, but a good deal of research results which run counter to their claims tends to go unpublished. Perhaps it is time for there to be a proper study of what causes raised LDL cholesterol levels and also a review of what the link of this to CHD statistically is. Telling me to cut down on saturated fats, as if there were a direct link to raised LDL blood cholesterol, is an insult to my intelligence.


The media and trust

25 Feb

My least favourite newspaper, The Daily Mail, has reported that there is an historical link between Harriet Harmon, deputy leader of the Labour Party, and a paedophile group, which dates back to the nineteen seventies. There are accurate points about this. Harriet Harmon was the legal representative to the National Council for Civil Liberties and the Paedophile Information Exchange was affiliated for a time to this organisation. There were several hundred groups affiliated to NCCL and PIE seems to have slipped under the radar. There is no direct link whatsoever between Harriet Harmon and PIE. The Daily Mail has been at great pains to suggest one.

There are some questions to ask here: firstly, could there be political bias in the Mail’s efforts to promote this non-story? Secondly, does the Mail have a history of telling half truths and downright lies? The answer to the first question is that the Mail is the most biased and right-wing of the national newspapers. As to the second question, the Mail is officially the least accurate newspaper or magazine. I take this figure from the data of the now defunct Press Complaints Commission. Over the last five years of its existence the PCC published the numbers of complaints and those upheld. The Daily Mail was top of both lists. Together with The Mail on Sunday, the paper accounted for very nearly half the complaints generated. Despite being a toothless bulldog the PCC found against The Mail on more occasions than any other newspaper or magazine. It accounted for as many instructions to print apologies as all the others added together.

My reaction to this non-story is that I will disbelieve anything the Mail prints on principal. It has lied and lied and lied. It has a long and dishonourable history of lying and of promoting extreme right-wing groups. Look up its support of the British Fascists in the 1930’s and tacit, sometimes active support of Hitler. Look at the production of the Zinoviev Letter in the nineteen twenties. These days it lies about immigration, inventing negative stories. It lies about the European Union. It supports the aims of The United Kingdom Independence Party, a bunch of racist nutters. It is also the second most popular newspaper in the country. Do not buy this newspaper, and if anyone quotes a story from its pages, challenge them.


24 Feb

I’m trying to get some publicity in order to get more recognition and sell more books. A minor problem is that I am reasonably well known as an actor and singer, in strictly local terms, but I use a pen-name for my writing. For the time being I am trying to do some anti-publicity, playing the mystery man. The idea is that I am writing spy stories, so why not be mysterious. At the same time I am trying to get the image out there. In a few days time I am appearing at a book event at a local stately home, Berrington Hall. The publicity did not include my name, so I am pushing it out to the local newspapers. In a jokey reference, I am including a picture of myself in full pantomime dame costume. So, here it is. Spot the difference:


P.s. You can get the books most cheaply from

The morals of poverty

20 Feb

The Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, has made a public statement saying that government reform of the welfare system is leaving people in destitution.
Prime Minister David Cameron has responded by saying that reform is giving people new hope and new responsibility. My own position is that the welfare system should provide a safety net, but not a trampoline. Government cuts have affected all areas of spending, not just the benefits system. It is proved that over the past four years the rich have become significantly richer while the poor have become much poorer. The vast majority of people in work are significantly worse off than they were before the start of this government. The unemployed and those on contracts which pay below starvation wages are the worst off of all. There has been a significant rise, a huge rise, in the number of soup kitchens and other means of feeding the very poor. This is because many people can no longer afford sufficient food to feed themselves and their families.

If you are very poor, with no means of improving your chances, you will probably have very little hope. Getting out of the shackles of poverty is very difficult, and not helped by fat cats telling you that your problems are your own fault. So much for hope. If you were educated at Eton and Oxford and were a member of the Bullingham Club*, known for smashing up restaurants, you are just the kind of privileged brat who can have no ability to empathise with the less fortunate. The best that can be hoped for is some kind of sympathy. The ethics of poverty are survival. As for responsibility, the poor are responsible for the survival of their family, and to the community which supports them.

The government has deliberately put gaping holes in the welfare safety net. It is now preaching to the victims in the high-minded and brutal tones used by the Victorians. Perhaps we should bring back the workhouses now. There is also the prejudice of grass-roots Tories who think anyone receiving benefits of any kind is a scrounger. As for the unemployed, well the speech goes out, ‘In the depression my dad got on his bike and found work’. Do we really want to go back to the standards of the Great Depression? Many jobs available do not provide a living wage, or anything like it, not even by the standards of the nineteen thirties.

There will be a General Election within fifteen months. Let’s vote in a government of a very different complexion. As for David Cameron, learn the answer to the question ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ (The answer is, yes you are).


*Prime Minister Cameron, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne and Mayor of London Boris Johnson are examples. These are the three most powerful men in Britain.

Little Britain

13 Feb

We are a small country. By world standards we have punched well above our weight for a very long time. I won’t bore you with more than one fact. The Industrial revolution started here. We were the first industrialised country. In July there will be a referendum in Scotland to decide whether or not they want to be independent from the rest of the UK. My opposition to this is that if we divide a small country into ever smaller units it weakens us all. It is not as though we are already strong. This threatened Balkanisation of Britain is unwelcome in a world where large countries can tell us what to do. The Scottish Nationalist Party form the current Scottish administration and they already have a good deal of devolved power, more than Wales has, for example.

There is another problem with Scotland. It is a very small country with several distinct historical groups. The Roman and post-Roman periods saw the Picts as the dominant group in the area. The historical Kingdom of Fife is the reminder of this past. From the fifth century Irish pirates, the Scots, settled in the Highlands and Islands. Vikings settled the Orkneys and Shetlands. The Anglo-Normans took charge of the borders and lowlands after the Norman conquest of England. William Wallace, the great hero in Braveheart was an Anglo-Norman. If Scotland gets full independence, what is to stop the Shetlands and Orkneys from declaring their own independence? After all, they have the money from oils and gas exploitation. Other areas might decide to split as well. The political unity of Scotland was not an ancient or fixed deal. Once you set out on this path there may be unforeseen consequences.

Wet, wet, wet

12 Feb

I was going to go out this morning, but have postponed the pleasure. It is currently raining moderately (in weather person speak), and the wind is gusting (!) to over 40 mph. So, no change there. We have been hit with wave after wave of Atlantic storms. Apparently the Jet Stream is running much further south than it generally does at this time of year. The wind is hitting the south coasts of England and Wales hard and is coming from the south. A stretch of the main rail line to Cornwall was washed away after the sea defences were breached and the line will be closed for several weeks. This is the wettest winter since 1776. The argument about the cause of this freakish weather is almost completely sterile. Climate change arguments rely on patterns, not single events.

Inland, the Somerset Levels have been flooded since the beginning of the year and the water is still rising. The biggest river in Britain, the Severn is rising to near record levels. The Thames, west of London has also filled its flood plain. Commuter towns feeding workers into London are being seriously threatened with floods. The prime Minister has been seen dressed in high vis waterproofs in anxious conversation with rescue workers and the overworked employees of the Environment Agency. Squadies have been filmed filling sandbags and delivering them to threatened householders. Even the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition has been seen out and about stirring up apathy.

There is little else that can be done. Face it, shit happens. Get over it. By wandering about flooded areas, trying to be seen to be doing something, it merely emphasises the Prime Minister’s powerlessness. The government lives on spin, and dies by it too. There are narrow limits to what can be achieved, and it is wrong to claim more power than you actually have. The government’s ratings are slipping further, despite a much trumpeted economic recovery. Public spending in all areas has been cut over the past years. That includes flood prevention measures. There is very little that can be done after the water has risen. Now that the heartland of his voters has been touched by the floods the PM has been galvanised into further action. It is strange how it suddenly becomes more urgent. When it was just the Somerset Levels, it was seen as a pity and a shame. Now the Thames Valley is flooded it has turned into ‘something must be done’.

At the weekend we had the unedifying sight of a minister, Eric Pickles, a man who seems to have more chins than moral values, blaming the Environment Agency for the problems, and especially its head, an ex-Labour minister. The Environment Agency workers, those who were not rationalised out of a job, are getting hardly any sleep and are out in the worst of the weather. Since then the PM has been desperately trying to distance himself from these comments. He was making ‘money no object’ promises in speeches yesterday, but resorted to weasel words when pressed on specifics by a BBC journalist.

As for me, well it is not too bad here. I do live half way up an 800 foot hill. We get the rain after it has fallen on the Welsh mountains, coming down the rivers Wye, Lugg and Arrow. There are flooded areas and some Amber Alerts. There is standing water on the roads and the road surface below is suffering badly. I’ll get myself another cup of coffee and hope the power doesn’t go off.

Useful reminders

10 Feb

Two days after my fiftieth birthday I received an invitation to go on a Saga holiday. Now Saga is a company dealing with the needs of the more mature person. I may be getting vintage, but never mature! The idea of being sent on coach trips with crumblies to wander around some site of historic interest trying to avoid the zimmer frames and complaining about the tea afterwards, (Oh, they just don’t make it right, do they?) just fills me with dread. Saga louts, as they are known, are best avoided, along with chavellers. A couple of weeks ago was my sixtieth birthday and, lo and behold, last week I received an invitation to take part in a bowel cancer screening programme. All very worthy. I am sure, but it did not improve my mood very much. Determined, as I am, to grow old disgracefully, this seems to be a sign to start slowing down. I think death is a much better indicator as nature’s way of telling you to slow down, so I will carry on much as before, with wine, women and song – wife permitting – and stick two fingers up to fate.

The party was not on my birthday. Half way through January is not a good time to have a party. Everyone is just about socialised out after Christmas and New Year. I’ve known this for years, and usually have an un-birthday in June. Like the Queen, I have an official birthday as well as a real one. This year we are having a party in May to coincide with our 20th wedding anniversary. The village hall and the band are booked and an invitation will soon be winging its way to the relatives and friends who should be coming. Locals and work friends will be informed shortly afterwards. I am looking forward to misbehaving, dancing and generally making a lovable prat of myself. So, no change there.