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Pain: September 2016

img_0727Riga, Prince, Pain and where we are going wrong.


img_0802In August I had an interesting and stimulating week  examining and lecturing at an international medical conference with  clinicians from 18 other  countries  in Riga, Latvia. I came back with several new clinical pearls to learn and apply over time.  I finally retired from an international examining board that I had been on for many years, and while I will be sad not to be working with my multi disciplined colleagues from around the world, I will not miss the pressure of work that comes with such pro bono roles.

It was salutary on visiting a Baltic State, to remember that Latvia, which had been an independent state by 1918, then underwent the unimaginable hardships of first the brutal invasion by the Soviet Union in 1940, only to then suffer under the Nazis from ’41-44, to be liberated by the same Stalinist Soviet regime that they had endured three years earlier and then have to suffer loss of statehood until their final freedom in 1992.  This much longed-for freedom in turn, required a difficult and stressful roller coaster ride into the joys and sorrows of the faster moving and sometimes also ruthless world of winner-takes-all modern capitalism. That they have come out of it all so well is a credit to their endurance and fortitude. From that brief history of a nation’s pain let us turn to the subject of chronic pain.


A few months ago the  musician Prince died by an accidental overdose of the powerful opioid drug fentanyl. This is 100 times as strong as morphine. As  Gary Franklin, a researcher at the University of Washington  said in Scientific American recently,

“In a way, Prince is a poster child for what can happen with chronic use—and increasing doses—of these very powerful drugs.”

No one likes pain. I know, both as a human, subject to pain myself and as a health professional working in pain relief for decades. Throughout history each culture has struggled to battle the horrors of unstoppable pain employing all sorts of methods. We in our advanced, science soaked society have often thought we had moved on from those old painful days of yore. And so we had. No one who has used modern dentistry or  undergone safe modern childbirth would say we should go back to the good old days. And yet, in recent years, we seem to have taken a few missed steps in our over focus on chemical solutions and overlooked other powerful avenues to pain relief, particularly chronic pain relief and resolution.

This month I want to look at the kind of chronic pain we endure from musculoskeletal pain, arthritis, fibromyalgia, headaches rather than the kind of chronic pain associated with cancer and end of life care.

Chronic pain is continuous, long-term pain of more than 12 weeks or after the time that healing would have been thought to have occurred in pain after trauma or surgery. According to the British Pain Society up to 28 million Britons are living with chronic pain, new estimates suggest.  Problems such as low back pain or osteoarthritis effect between 35% and 51% of British adults, according to a new study.

Chronic pain is complex, multi factorial and needs to be approached in several ways at once. If we have taken some miss-steps in recent decades we can now see more clearly some better ways forward to approach chronic pain with greater understanding and more awareness of some of the pitfalls that have become more apparent, particularly where opioids are concerned.  Too often where the USA goes, the rest of the world follows.  Sadly this seems to be, in part, true of the opioid epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that as many as 259 million painkiller prescriptions were written in 2012 alone, with the U.S. responsible for 99% of global sales for hydrocodone, a semi-synthetic opioid synthesized from codeine and 81% of the world’s consumer market for oxycodone, a synthetic analgesic drug which is similar to morphine in its effects.

According to Modern Health Care;

“In 1996, pharmaceutical firm Purdue Pharma launched a campaign informing patients and doctors that a new, safe drug was available to combat pain that was not the result of cancer, surgery or trauma. This pill could relieve chronic back pain caused by daily physical demands. And it was safe because it would slowly release its narcotic ingredients, making it unlikely to become addictive, it said. The drug caused a cultural shift in the way physicians treated pain and how Americans viewed it”.

It was this change in prescribing practices that would lead to our public health crisis, said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing.

As so often in these drug industry stories you can almost write the rest yourself. Two decades later, many advanced countries face record mortality rates associated with drug overdoses, including those related to heroin, an option many addicts turn to as a cheaper and more accessible alternative to painkillers. You will not be surprised to learn that the drug company had been economical with the truth and a huge row-back is underway as millions, particularly Americans, find themselves addicted to opioids or worse, like Prince, dead from over use. While things are not quite as bad here in the UK a similar  pattern is emerging. As the British Faculty of Pain Medicine say in their recent Opioids Aware advice for clinicians and patients, “Opioids are very good analgesics for acute pain a the end of life but there is little evidence that they are useful for long-term pain”.

In America where the opioid crisis has reached alarming proportions The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in its 2016 guidelines for prescribing opioids, notes that non-pharmacologic therapies are preferred for treating chronic pain. Again from the other side of the pond, Modern Health Care ,  in their recent piece entitled

  “Opioid crisis renews interest in osteopathic manipulation therapy”

report on the rediscovery of old tried and tested methods of pain relief that have been used in both Europe and America for over 100 hundred years.

Rather than going through a standard physical examination, we will actually put our hands on the patient to feel if there are any asymmetries or restrictions in the tissues,” said Dr. Jim Bailey, an assistant professor of rehabilitative medicine at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine in New Jersey. “If we find them we can use various techniques to correct that.”

Most of the scientific research into Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy (OMT), as it is known in America, over the years involved small patient samples, so positive results were easily dismissed  and providers like the NHS or insurers often refused to recommend or reimburse for the procedure. But that is changing; in the UK  The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) has been recommending forms of manual therapy such as Osteopathy for back pain for some years now.  A  report  on July 16, 2016 , stated;

“A fairly large randomized, controlled trial of over 400 patients that appeared earlier this year in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association found six OMT sessions were associated with “significant and clinically relevant measures for recovery from chronic lower back pain.” This came on the heels of a 2014 meta-analysis—led by a German researcher who has worked with the respected Cochrane Collaboration—that found OMT helped reduce pain and improved function in both acute and chronic pain patients.

 So despite our long running love affair with out-of-the-bottle ‘magic bullet’ chemical solutions, non-invasive, safe, and effective alternatives that address and resolves the source of pain are increasingly being taken seriously by governments slowly following many chronic pain sufferers who have known this for a long time. While opioids and NSAID’s  have their place,  they are not the full answer and have too big a risk and are actually not that effective. Conservative, non-drug  methods should be used much more extensively first.

What we consider as conservative methods needs to and is, slowly changing. As the recent ‘Doctor in the House’ programme on the BBC 1 showed, careful functional and structural examination and treatment can often, as on the TV programme, turn a chronic 20-pill-a-day pain habit around in as little as 30 days.

Pain, we have to remember, while seemingly so tied up with the area of the body that it is coming from, needs to be seen as a brain-based problem. To tackle it we need an integrated strategy that recognises this and addresses the issue structurally, psychologically, nutritionally, linguistically, energetically and, only as a last resort, chemically, and then with greater caution. In a recent article in Practical Pain Management it  was cogently argued that;

“Osteopathic tenets and principles for the management of pain actually preceded the now widely accepted and heuristic bio-psycho-social approach. This bio-psycho-social model views physical disorders—such as pain—as the result of a dynamic interaction among physiological, psychological and social factors that perpetuates and may worsen the clinical presentation. A wide range of psychological and socioeconomic factors can interact with physical pathology to modulate a patient’s report of symptoms and subsequent disability. Thus, “knowing the whole person” is important in this model as well as in the osteopathic approach. It has been recently noted that, in general, this bio-psycho-social model is quite congruent with osteopathic principles and that it provides a great deal of empirical evidence that supports the osteopathic approach.”

This osteopathic approach is based on four principles, namely;

  • The body is a unit; the person is a unit of body, mind, and spirit.
  • The body is capable of self-regulation, self-healing, and health maintenance.
  • Structure and function are reciprocally interrelated.
  • Rational treatment is based upon an understanding of the basic principles of body unity, self-regulation, and the interrelationship of structure and function.

Gradually we are seeing that while the stimulation of a nerve may, but does not always lead to pain, this in turn does not always lead to suffering and the behaviour that pain and or suffering engenders can be very different depending on multiple bio-psycho-social factors, which can include a wide range of aspects just because pain is both an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience which is always filtered through our psycho-social expectations and experiences.

This can explain the  well proven efficacy of  such, once derided, approaches as the clinical use of mindfulness meditation for the self-regulation of chronic pain. So while this bio-psycho-social approach was widely embraced by osteopathic medicine, well before conventional allopathic medicine, perhaps sometimes  in the past we had a tendency to forget these facts as we got caught up with our own physical techniques and interventions. However most clinicians these days are well aware of the wider model discussed here.

An interesting newish example is  the OsteoMAP programme. This  is an NHS funded initiative, developed by the British School of Osteopathy combining Mindfulness and  Osteopathy and  is designed to support people with long-term musculoskeletal pain, which may be alleviated but is unlikely to be completely resolved by manual therapy alone. It aims to help people with pain find their own pathways to living a more fulfilling life, despite on-going symptoms. OsteoMAP is based on the ‘third wave’ Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) approaches currently used in group-based pain management programmes within the NHS.

Post Script

The day after I finished writing this blog I was interested to see the BBC ran a programme entitled The Doctor Who Gave Up Drugs, with Infectious disease and TV  Dr. Chris van Tulleken. With half the NHS’s drug use in General Practice and a 50% increase in drug consumption in the last 15 years and an estimated 100,000-lifetime-pill average consumption for healthy people, we have become a nation of druggies…and I am not consuming many at all, so someone must be consuming mine and possibly your share too!

With this massive over prescription of drugs that often do not work very well and sometimes kill us, we have created a dysfunctional system that is both unsustainable, unhealthy and dangerous. Long term use of common drugs like ibuprofen and paracetamol can lead to potentially life threatening kidney and liver damage, while many of the drugs that are often brought over the counter only work on a minority of people. Truly, as Van Tulleken says, a mad way to do medicine. But what to do?

To his credit he did have a go at being a GP for a day or so to see the huge pressure GP’s are under to do medicine in ten minute bouts, always aware that if they miss something and don’t prescribe the right medicine and a patient dies they are very vulnerable to being sued.

Tulleken showed in no uncertain terms how so many patients who are taking handfuls of pain medication every day, sometimes for decades, if they were to come off them and just move, let alone see an expert like an osteopath for their back or shoulder pain, could both reduce or eradicate their pain and greatly reduce their risks of toxic drug reactions. In a young woman on antidepressants for eight years, since she was 16, he introduced her to wild swimming. Both the exercise and the cold shock stimulus to the hormonal system as good evidence shows, have the power to change our depressed state.

However, even for those of us who know and accept these things and are not sleep walking to a drug filled future, the challenge for us, as a nation, is how do we organise health care so that those old-fashioned home visits and intensive enquiry as to a better way of helping our patients can be introduced along side any drugs that may well be vital to a few?

Seeing Tulleken made me hope that one day we might have a functional medicine speciality that is charged, much as he did for TV, with attaching to GP surgeries and coaching the many people who can get a much better, safer and more effective kind of medicine by applying all the new (and old) knowledge  we have that can lead us away from this unsustainable and unhealthy way of doing medicine. Expensive perhaps in the short term but life saving and economical in the longer term.

Well enough of pain for now, before I go have you checked your vitamin D levels recently? While I have written about the ever-growing understanding into the many roles of vitamin D in our health elsewhere I was interested to see this recent research in relation to Asthma.

Vitamin D & Asthma

334 million people around the world are effected by asthma and there are 185 hospital admissions and three deaths each day in the UK from asthma.  A new study that showed that vitamin D supplements can half the risk of  acute asthma attacks.   An official estimate suggest one in five adults and one in six children in England may have low levels. Now, an extensive review of the evidence, carried out by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), suggests everyone over the age of one needs to consume 10 micrograms of vitamin D each day in order to protect bone and muscle health.

Coming soon, reflections on encouraging life-style and nutrition research from America on reversing early Alzheimer’s disease,  and the exciting and advancing world of the humanbiome.

If you’d like to comment on any of this, or read what others have commented, you can do so below.

Why Women should do weights: August 2016

A summer of change

A lot of changes are afoot  both at Helix House and in public health advice recently. Most notably this July with new governmental advice for us to take extra vitamin D as a supplement.

Vitamin D supplementation

For most people, the bulk of their vitamin D is made from the action of sunlight on their skin. Official estimates, which may well be very conservative, suggest one in five adults and one in six children in England may have low levels.

“What vitamin deficiency affects over half of the population, is almost never diagnosed, and has been linked to depression,  dementia, many cancers, autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, chronic muscle pain, and bone loss?

What vitamin is almost totally absent from our food supply? What vitamin do we need up to twenty-five times more of than the government recommends for us to be healthy? What vitamin is the hidden cause of so much suffering that is so easy to treat? If you guessed vitamin D, you are correct”.   Dr. Mark Hyman.

Thus I started my previous blog on Vitamin D back in February 2012. We like to be ahead of the curve! Now, the BBC report that an extensive review of the evidence, carried out by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), suggests everyone over the age of one needs to consume 10 micrograms of vitamin D each day in order to protect bone and muscle health. And public health officials say, in winter months, people should consider getting this from 10 microgram supplements, if their diet is unlikely to provide it.

Closer to home we are welcoming:

  A new Osteopath to Helix House.

image003Yan-Chee Yu

After a Cambridge degree in mathematics Yan took a masters in osteopathy  and is a graduate of the British School of Osteopathy, is registered with the General Osteopathic Council and is a member of the Institute of Osteopathy. He runs a successful London practice and  says;

As an Osteopath I work primarily using Cranial Osteopathic techniques, integrating Visceral and Structural methods as necessary. I have particular interests in long-standing conditions, such as severe physical trauma, and the effects of psycho-emotional factors, including chronic stress and distress of any kind, on the body’s natural healing capacity.
In addition to my formal Osteopathic education, I have spent over a decade training in Qigong and Meditation where I have learned to directly experience how the physical body is affected by its qi (energy) and by the qi of thoughts and emotions. Through this experience of working directly with the body, emotions and thoughts, I have developed an integrated, holistic approach which enables me to best appreciate each person as a whole and support everybody I treat according to their individual needs”.

If you would like to sample his unique talents you can book a treatment with him at Helix House right now. We wish him well in his planned move back westwards  from London towards his childhood home of Cheltenham and hope he will soon build up a strong following here in Oxford in the coming years.

Why Women should do weights

Just yesterday I was congratulating a teenage patient for all the strong exercise she was taking in her  demanding sport. While it can be tough and time-consuming I highlighted for her and her mother the benefits of such physical training in helping to build up her ‘bone bank’ of strong bones for later in her life.

Osteoporosis is a condition that makes bones more brittle and prone to fracture. Although osteoporosis can effect men and younger people, post-menopausal women are most at risk. One of the best ways to help maintain healthy bones is to exercise regularly – which encourages the bones to absorb calcium and other mineral salts that keep bones strong.

Weight bearing exercises and weight resisted exercises are best for strengthening bones and muscles and as well as helping to keep bones in good health may also reduce the likelihood of falls as you age. Weight bearing exercises are those where your body is supporting its own weight, such as walking or housework or carrying groceries. Weight resisted exercise involves pushing or pulling against an additional weight, like a dumbbell or barbell or resistance equipment in a gym.

The younger you start, the better

Anyone can benefit from weight training but it has been demonstrated that younger women like my young patient who trained using weights have stronger bones later in life, this essentially means that you can bank bone when you’re younger to help prevent fractures later in life – a kind of insurance scheme for your body. A life time of active living not only protects your bones but also keeps your heart healthy and may protect you from other diseases such as cancer and type two diabetes.

But starting at any age will help

Everyone can benefit from increasing their activity levels. Studies have shown that people who have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis can improve their bone health significantly through weight-bearing exercising, the key is getting good advice on how to move well and how to self-manage.

Some more benefits

Strong muscles burn more calories, so if you need to control your bodyweight, lifting weights can help. It also helps with balance and can help you to regulate your sleep patterns.

‘I don’t want to look muscled’

It takes women a lot of heavy weight lifting, and sometimes the use of controlled substances like steroids and hormones, to achieve the physique of the heavily muscled power lifter. Women don’t normally have enough testosterone in their bodies to develop bulging muscles, but can, with regular, moderate training achieve lean, toned and strong muscles.

‘I hate gyms’

No problem. There are plenty of other exercises you can do that don’t involve a visit to the gym. Dancing, yoga, tennis, Pilates, walking, running, gardening and even housework count – all you are aiming to do is increase your heart rate and make yourself feel a little warmer. You can do it in several short blocks of 15 minutes or more but aim for at least a total of 150 minutes per week over at least 5 days per week for the best results. If you’re unused to exercise, start slowly and build up to this target.

I don’t know where to start

This is where your friendly local osteopath can help. We can screen you for any health concerns that might affect your ability to exercise, help to resolve any injuries or pain that might be holding you back and advise you on what exercises might suit your goals best. Many can teach you how to exercise correctly, avoiding injuries and how to gradually build up as your ability and fitness levels improve.

June 2016: Prostate Cancer + New Faces coming to Helix House

Do you have a Prostate, No? But perhaps you know (and even love) someone who does?

I loved my father. Well most of us do, what was sad for me to see was his growing girth and eventual demise from prostate and bladder cancer some fourteen years ago. I remember him when I was young as a slim, energetic man, who would run down the street and make me laugh, it was inevitably painful to see him suffering in his last years.

Sad but nothing new about that, you might say.  True, but it may be that history, as well as my clinical knowledge, was one reason why my eye was caught recently by a small piece in The Week under the headline waist size and prostate cancer. Perhaps, for many, the link between the most common  form of male cancer in the UK,  we have around 130 new cases a day, and the size of your waist, might seem surprising.

Waist Size

Few people think of reducing their waist size specifically to avoid cancer. But for clinicians over many years now, one of the least expensive, but very cost effective tools in our offices, has been  a simple measure tape with green, yellow and red sections indicating the good, not so good and bad sizes for our waists with one side for women and  the other for men. In one small maneuver you can see where you lie in the healthy to unhealthy or even dangerous waist-size stakes. This has been a useful tool to bring to light, in a very simple and direct way to patients, the risks that visceral fat can have on our health.

This study, which was recently presented at the European Obesity Summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, carried out at Oxford University followed 141,896 men, typically aged 52, over 14 years: during this time 7,022 developed prostate cancer and of those, 934 died. What the research showed was that for every extra four inches a man had on his waist, he raised his risk of developing the most aggressive form of prostate cancer by 13% while his risks of dying went up by 18%.

It has been known for some time that a waist size can have a significant effect on health:  You have a higher risk of health problems if your waist size is:

  • more than 94cm (37 inches) if you’re a man
  • more than 80cm (31.5 inches) if you’re a woman

Your risk of health problems is even higher if your waist size is:

  • more than 102cm (40 inches) if you’re a man
  • more than 88cm (34.5 inches) if you’re a woman

Around 1,000 people a week die in the UK from obesity-related conditions. While estimates vary, the cost of obesity accounts for possibly more than 20% of all health costs today and looks to rise exponentially in years to come. Knowing where you are on that colour code tape is a good start to add some  warning for this common cancer as well as, it could be argued now we are on the skids financially, a patriotic step. As I am at that peak age for diagnosis of prostate cancer, I have another reason to think carefully about the disease, even though my waist size is under control.

The incidents of prostate cancer is highest in Australia and New Zealand and lowest in South Central Asia. So what is it in this  increased waist size, (or apple shape as opposed to pear shape) that is driving these higher risks?  According to the  Harvard School of Public Health  The fat surrounding the liver and other abdominal organs, so-called visceral fat, is very metabolically active. It releases fatty acids, inflammatory agents, and hormones that ultimately lead to higher LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, blood glucose, and blood pressure. Male hormones, or androgens, drive the development of prostate cancer. Two common androgens are testosterone and the more powerful, less friendly, dihydrotestosterone (DHT). It is possible that this increased viseral fat drives the production of DHT.

The Nurses’ Health Study,(yes I know nurses are more often women) one of the largest and longest studies to date that has measured abdominal obesity, looked at the relationship between waist size and death from heart disease, cancer, or any cause in middle-aged women. After following this enormous cohort of women for 16 years they found that women who had a waist size of 35 inches almost doubled their risk of  dying from heart disease and cancer, and the higher the size the bigger the risk.

Food for Thought

OK, so we should lose that beer belly, anything else we can do? Well yes, if epidemiology studies on diet and disease are telling us anything. Why has there been a twenty-five fold increase in prostate cancer in Japan since world war two? Could it have anything to do with the sevenfold increase in egg consumption, a ninefold increase in meat consumption, and a twentyfold increase in dairy consumption?

Many things happened in Japan to change the rates of death, but it does appear that  the rise of milk consumption is a significant factor. We have grown up with a cultural belief that milk is altogether a ‘good thing’, all sorts of phases link it to the positive in our upbringing, “The milk of human kindness”, “mother’s milk” tells us subliminally that this is a good thing. Fear of osteoporosis encourages us to increase our calcium intake and this is often linked to milk in many people’s minds.

The truth turns out to be somewhat different. Not only do numerous rigorous scientific studies point to high intake of dairy appearing to increase total prostate cancer risk, but milk may, ironically, even increase bone and hip fracture rates, something that would seem to be counter-intuitive to our prevailing cultural conditioning.

Milk is not the only ‘good’ food associated with higher risks of prostate cancer, eggs, chicken and most animal proteins are associated with up to four times the risk of prostate cancer progression. Now I have been a life long vegetarian so avoiding meat, for me, is no sacrifice, however moving to a fully vegan diet and abandoning eggs and cheese is more of a challenge. But this is where the science seems to be taking us. Not that you will hear this from any government any time soon. That would lose too many farming  votes and food industry cash. Sadly we cannot rely on the government as a reliable source of anything but the blandest of health advice. And anyway, such governmental health advice is not effective. What might be more effective is, following the likes of the Finnish example and concentrating on encouraging and introducing young children in school to a wide range of exciting and tasty vegetables so that they at least grow up with a healthier and more protective diet. Banging on about ‘5 a day’ seems singularly ineffective. Perhaps the way forward is via taste and joy rather than advice and guilt.

A:V ratio

This takes us to the A:V ratio. or the rate of Animal to Vegetable proteins in our diets. Many research studies have tried to test for this and, sure enough, the more we shift towards a plant-based diet, the lower the signs linked to prostate cancer, like PSA levels, are. It is looking very likely that the ideal A:V ratio is closer to zero than one. And this is not just for prostate cancer, it seems to apply too for cancer prevention in general.

Allen et al. reported in the International Journal of Cancer in 2013 on the largest study ever performed on bladder cancer that involved nearly 500,000 people in Europe, found that an increase in animal protein consumption of just 3% was associated with a 15% increase in risk of bladder cancer, the other cancer my father suffered from.  On the other hand, an increase in plant protein intake of only 2% was associated with a 23% decreased cancer risk.

So while politicians will wail, with some justification, at the struggles of our National Health Service, behind the headlines, science is inexorably pointing to a dramatic change needed in our farming and food culture, if we are really to successfully deal with the growth of chronic disease and the ever rising cancer levels. This will take an ongoing revolution.

It seems almost impossible to imagine the kind of shift in habitual eating habits needed to make a dent in the drivers for our high cancer rates. We know that a very significant proportion of cancers are lifestyle and particularly food, related.  But I am confident things will eventually change and fewer of us, like my father, will have to suffer unnecessarily due to our ignorance of what our eating habits are subtly doing to us, when all the time we thought we were doing the right thing. However it is going to take far, far too long, both for the chances of a whole generation, not to mention climate change, to get these kind of profound changes.

Never-the-less we can already see the small seeds of change in many of the millennial generation where things like veganism is rapidly becoming mainstream in certain circles. As only men have a prostate and men are very much the weaker sex when it comes to being able to change their diet for health reasons, see, Dr. Michael Greger’s evidence based review of the literature on this things look grim, for the time being, for the mass of British men. As Greger says, a cancer diagnosis is often considered a ‘teachable moment‘ in medicine. The only way  the renowned Dr. Dean Ornish managed to make  significant changes in men’s diet was by delivering  healthy cooked meals to their door. So if men won’t change behaviour because of a risk of cancer, perhaps the very high risks of erectile dysfunction might be the way to go in encouraging change. I fear the type of major change we have discussed here, will only come with generation change. Smoking is slowly becoming an  unacceptable activity, but that has taken nearly a lifetime and, for the more disadvantaged, it is still not eradicated.

With weight gain we seem to disrupt all sorts of hormonal messengers that are trying to keep the balance in our bodies. Chronic inflammation sets off  confusion within.

Unwanted Growth & IGF-1

When we are small we need to grow, and so signals, such as insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1)  are sent through our hormones to encourage cells to grow more numerous.  Every day we are turning over billions of cells and renewing ourselves all the time. However once we are adult we do not need to grow more numerous cells, just renew the ageing ones we have got. Extra cells can lead to tumors and the kind of growth we do not want. As I said in my November blog on fasting;

“Genetically engineered mice  live 40% longer by reducing levels of growth hormone I.G.F.1. This is the ‘go-go’ hormone. With less of this the body has the time to slow down the production of new cells in order to fix the cells it already has so repairing damage. Protein when eaten builds cells but also locks us into the go-go mode and can encourage too fast a growth, leaving no time for repair. Eating less protein, less often, seems to help reduce IGF1 as well as the crucial glucose levels”.

There is a rare form of dwarfism called Laron syndrome that has been studied a lot recently both in relation to cancer suppression and fasting. The body of those with Laron syndrome cannot produce enough IGF-1 to grow, however the good side is that small as they are, they seem almost immune to cancer. And it is our dietary choices that can allow us to turn down the helpful growth power of IGF-1 when we are fully grown.  Evidence is mounting to show that both reducing our calorific, and specifically, protein consumption, perhaps through regular mild fasting, see my recent blog fasting-is-it-the-way-forward-november-2015/ can reduce our levels of IGF-1. After just eleven days of cutting back on animal protein, your IGF-1 levels drop by 20% and your levels of IGF-1 binding protein can jump to 50%. This binding protein helps to tie up excess IGF-1  and so protect your body from excess growth, from cancer.

What to do?

So what can we guys do to reduce our risks of prostate cancer? And what can you do to help the men in your life reduce their risks, and also help reduce your risks of other cancers like breast or bladder cancer? Remember that some like Dr. William Fair and his colleagues, from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in the USA, suggest that prostate cancer may be considered a ‘nutritional disease.’

  1. Work towards reducing your A:V ratio. More plants fewer animals.
  2. Eat more cruciferous vegetables, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, or kale are helpful for glucosinolates and Indole-3-carbinol (I3C)
  3. Eat more grounded flax seeds for their cancer protective lignans.
  4. Eat more tomatoes, especially cooked, for their anti cancer effects of lycopene.
  5. Consider eating traditional East Asian soya products like tofu for their protective phytoestrogens called isoflavones.
  6. Oh yes, and work towards reducing that inflammatory waist size! (Back to my November blog on the 5:2 fasting diet)!

There are lots of things you can do to reduce the risk. The sooner started the better the effect. Good luck.

New Faces, new talents

Helix house will be getting some new faces working with us starting this summer. Watch out for some interesting, skilled people who will be joining us, offering their well honed talents in body work different from our own. You may well want to book a trial treatment from one or all of these well honed and experienced practitioners.

Alex SmolonskaAlex-3
Alex graduated from Oxford School of Sports Massage with Level 5 BTEC Professional Diploma in Clinical, Sport & Remedial Massage. She worked at the Oxford University Woman’s Lightweight Rowing Club, and more recently at Eau-de-Vie – The Centre for Natural Health Treatments. She treats a diverse group of clients ranging from busy mums, office and manual workers, musicians, football players, cyclists, runners, power lifters to racing car drivers. She has just completed the core programme of the Visceral Manipulation (VM) at The Barral Institute in New York. VM is a gentle manual therapy which helps to release restrictions and unhealthy compensations that cause pain and dysfunction.

Bells Aris         Bella has been working as a massage therapist in Oxford for the last 18 years and over time has enjoBella Arisyed how her practice has grown and evolved. After first training at the Oxford School of Massage in holistic massage she became more drawn to helping clients in pain and discomfort, after all that is primarily why someone will seek treatment. This led her to train at JING Advanced Massage where she gained the tools and knowledge to really understand and help people in pain whether it be from a sporting injury or spending 8+ hours a day at a desk.

Through becoming a mother of 3 her interests extended to women’s health, firstly with pregnancy massage. As a doula as well as a massage therapist she has developed a deeper understanding of the pregnant body both in terms of the common aches and pains of pregnancy but also the ups and downs that a woman might go though at this time.

A natural step from pregnancy became helping women with menstrual and fertility issues. she came across Maya abdominal massage, a gentle non invasive technique aimed at the health of the uterus and pelvic region. She has become increasingly convinced at how this work supports women on many levels.

She continues to love the work that she does and feels that her experience gathered over the years along with an interest to learn more has helped her to give clients a comprehensive treatment.


Peak Stuff: March 2016

“If we look on a global basis, in the west we have probably hit peak stuff. We talk about peak oil. I’d say we’ve hit peak red meat, peak sugar, peak stuff … peak home furnishings,” Steve Howard

Steve Howard from IKEA said this  at a Guardian Sustainable Business debate.  He amusingly commented that the new state of affairs could be called “peak curtains”. Howard’s comment had been compared to a “Ratner moment”, named after Gerald Ratner’s description of goods at his jewellery stores as “crap” in 1991.  As  I read this piece  about Steve Howard’s rather daring, candid statement the other month it got me thinking.  I was busy clearing our old cupboards and was immediately both amused by the term, ‘peak stuff’ and recognised that I was at that stage in life of being in danger of letting stuff, overcrowd my life, instead of improving it.

I am old enough to remember the more spartan times of the 1950’s when the shadow of the second world war still hung over a rather grey, smog covered,  bombed-out, London  and one could but marvel at the seeming cornucopia of goodies that appeared to be available in far-off  America. There was no way the child-me, with my face up against the toy shop window, would, at that different time, have understood the concept of ‘peak stuff’.

The surprisingly engrossing  recent BBC series Back in Time for the Weekend , through the device of putting a family through a speeded up series of decades looking at the entertainment ‘stuff’ that they had available, brought home our changing relation to ‘stuff’.

Stuart Jeffries (The Guardian, Enough is Enough 02.03.16) also wrote an interesting piece noting that  British consumers are actually spending 5% less on their total household budget buying physical goods over the last decade. Altogether, Jeffries reports, we are getting through 10.3 tonnes per person, down from a high of 15.1 tonnes twelve years earlier. All those discarded VHS tapes that cannot be recycled and the 4m tonnes of food we waste each year may be one of the reasons we rack up these enormous totals.  Will our greater awareness, tightened circumstances and increased digitization see a significant reduction in these, rather horrifying, figures?

As nearly all societies become increasingly unequal again, under the new order,  even a simple and civilised  William Morris-like appreciation of a few well-chosen, beautiful objects, for our homes is slipping out of the reach of many, to be replaced by gluts of stuff for some and no chance of a decent home to contemplate any wished for beautiful objects, for many.

But perhaps the real challenge for us all, is one that cuts across the growing  material divide. If we shift focus for a moment from our physical ‘stuff’ to all those tired, broken and tarnished beliefs, certainties and ideologies that we might still have tucked away in the loft of our minds, there might be some decluttering to be done that could be even more useful to us all than the physical decluttering now espoused by best sellers like Marie Kondo’s  The Life Changing Magic of Tidying.

I would like to leave you with the challenge this month. Go up into your ‘mental loft space’ and rummage around there sometime and see what old, out of date, mental baggage you still have stored away, that no longer serves you. Ask yourself if that old 1950’s belief, potentially poisonous  ’60’s ideology or quaint ’70’s style social construct, inherited from your parents, are really fit for purpose in our present time?

It is not difficult to see the damage that such old certainties that are being clung to around the world are doing, both to our fragile physical world and to the political discourse of our time.

May be it is time to bring some of these  dysfunctional, outmoded thought forms, down. Give them a wash and take them to  the dump where there can be safely recycled into something more imaginative and fitting for the  undoubted existential challenges to come. Something to think about.

New Year, New Life. January 2016

Happy (and ‘lucky’)  New Year. January 2016.


“The harder you practice, the luckier you get.”

I just purchased a Lottery ticket for the first time today. I know, my chances of winning, and having the pleasure of becoming a serious Philanthropist, are about 65 million to one! But I have been thinking about lady luck this week and decided to indulge in the most extreme form of luck consciousness, in honour of this blog, just for once. But really that is not the kind of luck I want to think about here.

That famous quote,  above, linked in 1962 to the great american golfer Gary Player, has its roots much further back in time, but  still has a resonance with us, for, on a good day, when we are in harmony with things, we know that we can, sometimes, make our own luck. Yet, at other times, we seem doomed to thrash around, just making everything worse with each crashing stumble. Especially when we are young and struggling to get established, finding the art of easing the passage of life and flowing with things, can often seem utterly beyond us. So much so that the very suggestion that we could, feels a preposterous slander.

At the start of another new year I would like to think about how we approach our ‘luck’ in  all aspects of our life. So much of what we get caught up in day-to-day, may not really lead to us living in harmony with the more profound aspects of our lives.

If we can allow ourselves to truly see that, even with all the cruel and often overwhelming inequalities and injustices of our world, we are also, in some profound way, the drivers of our destiny.  As we align ourselves more with the  mystery of our unfolding life, we may more easily be able to see the extraordinary synchronicity that pops up in life, the more one steps into harmony.

Studying Luck: Lucky for some

In Oxford we have two great universities studying all sorts of erudite subjects, all of which are important, but still we struggle with key aspects of how to be happy, healthy and at peace, both as we go through our lives and as we come to their inevitable ends. Our city houses large number of clever people employed to crunch the evidence, to understand, to guide the policy,  of how we live and why we die before, what might be seen as, ‘our time’.

Over the last year researchers around the world have tried to work out how much cancer, for example, is caused by bad luck and how much as a result of choices we make. Every few months various, impressive, statistical studies come out, with  different views on this, which must be confusing for those who take these efforts as a final truth, instead of well-informed, statistical guesses and useful ways of  keeping epidemiologists gainfully employed.

In  January last year one study suggested that two-thirds of cancer types were down to luck rather than factors such as smoking. While later in December another study suggested that cancers were overwhelmingly a result of environmental factors and not largely down to bad luck. This can be both encouraging, in that we may have greater agency over our life, but can also turn into an unpleasant and erroneous ‘blame the patient’ game, if not fully understood.

Seeing Life through another window

What if we were all inextricably one and everything that happened to us was for the sole purpose for us to learn? That our whole life was one big learning experience?

It is easy to say, but much harder to accept when the most precious things in our lives are snatched away from us, as they were for Jeff Olsen. Whatever you might think of his touching and profound life changing, Near Death Experiences around a terrible car accident he was in, that killed both his wife and youngest son, it provides another narrative to the dominant materialistic model that holds sway in our culture today.

When you have a chance you might want to give some time to listen to Olsen’s story and witness how it has shaped him to become the impressive man he comes across as today. There is a considerable amount of  scientific evidence around the whole subject of Near Death Experiences. (For more on this subject, see my book review in  my blog; August 2012: Dying to Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing by Anita Moorjani) Whatever you make of them, there are useful pointers to be gained from those who have had these experiences, relevant to our own life and how to live it. How we ‘make our own luck’.

The School of Life

Talking of how to live our life,  are you familiar with The School of Life?   This is an organisation, with centres around the world, founded in 2008  by philosopher Alain de Botton and  Sophie Howarth a former curator from Tate Modern, in collaboration with a number of writers, artists and educators. The School offers a variety of programmes and services concerned with how to live wisely and well: finding fulfilling work, mastering relationships, achieving calm, and understanding and changing the world.[1] The School also offers psychotherapy and bibliotherapy services and runs small shops[2] which have been described as ‘apothecaries for the mind'”.[3]

What I wanted to draw your attention to specifically, were their impressive, and ever-expanding, list of very short five-minute films  that they have on YouTube. Here they dispense sassy, calm, well-informed,  non-judgemental insights on a wide variety of subjects, from mini introductions to the great philosophers to a recent addition, ‘Why God says you should have sex every Friday night’! (The wisdom of the Torah. it’s a couple’s duty under God to have sex every Friday night, perhaps an insightful piece of ancient, couples therapy). You’ll have to check out that one!

Making our own Luck in 2016

So how are you going to make your own luck in 2016? There are so many better ways of doing so, that are more sane and effective than my one-off,  mildly ridiculous, Lottery approach.

You could do worse than check out some of the School of Life’s brilliant little films, bringing some clear thinking into how we see, and maybe change, our lives so ‘making our own luck’.

It only remains for me to wish you, Good Luck, in 2016.

Women, can you help with some research?

Here is a request, from psychotherapist Fia Kinley-Jones.

Have you ever brought the topic of your period to your therapy?

If so, I’d love to hear from you with a view to inviting you to participate in my MA research:

‘An exploration of women’s experiences of bringing menstruation as a topic to psychotherapy’

You will need:

– To be a practising trainee or qualified counsellor/ psychotherapist

  • To be a woman of menstruating age (post pubescent and pre menopausal)
  • To have been in, or to currently be in psychotherapy/counselling

– To have raised the issue of your periods or menstrual cycle in your own therapy at least once and to be happy to discuss this experience

I am conducting this research as part of an MA in Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy at the Minster Centre, London. This project has been approved by the Minster Centre’s Ethics Committee and will be conducted in accordance with the Ethical Guidelines of the B.A.C.P.

If you are interested in participating in this project or know anyone who might be, or if you would like to find out more please contact me on:

tel: 07875 007 595

Interviews will last about 60 – 90 minutes, will be audio-recorded and will be conducted at a time and place that is convenient for both of us.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Fia Kinley-Jones




Fasting is it the way forward? November 2015

This month I want to talk about the latest buzz word in longevity, weight loss and possible brain health…yes you guessed it, FASTING.

In my keen 20’s when living in Japan I experimented with fasting, managing 24 hour fasts every so often and one time, at a yoga dojo just below Mt. Fuji, managed a seven-day fast, all the while doing strenuous yoga and early morning runs. So you see I was a little mad, even in those days.

But things have moved on in the last forty years and all across the world, no longer just in Europe and the USA, chronic non-communicatable disease is replacing infectious disease with remarkable speed, as the major scourge of our time.  The two most common conditions I see in practice are Pain and Fatigue.

We know that one of the simplest and cheapest diagnostic tools any one can access is… a tape measure. According to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) Men who have waist circumferences greater than 40 inches, and women who have waist circumferences greater than 35 inches, are at higher risk of diabetes, dys-lipidemia, hypertension, and cardio-vascular disease because of excess abdominal fat. Individuals with waist circumferences greater than these values should be considered one risk category above that defined by their BMI. While the BMI, or Body Mass Index, has its problems as a measurement, used with care it can be a quick and simple guide to where one is in the greater scheme of things. To estimate BMI, multiply your weight (in pounds) by 703, then divide by the height (in inches) squared. This approximates BMI in kilograms per meter squared(kg/m2).

 Underweight <18.5 kg/m
Normal weight 18.5–24.9 kg/m
Overweight 25–29.9 kg/m
Obesity (Class 1) 30–34.9 kg/m
Obesity (Class 2) 35–39.9 kg/m
Extreme obesity (Class 3)≥40 kg/m

All clinicians know how hard it is to achieve significant and lasting weight loss. In fact it is now well-known that, ultimately, most diets end up making you fat! Some weight may be lost in the short-term but can often end up swapping lean body mass for fat over the longer term as the effects of the different diets take their toll.  Followed up over time few manage to significantly change their weight unless they find a long-term sustainable way of eating that will significantly reduce their  excess weight and at the same time, allow them a healthy and permanent means of doing so. This is hard to do in our dysfunctional food and farming environment. While exercise is vital for health and most soda manufactures will try to shift the focus onto that important area, the great majority of influence on our weight is food, and things like soda, so laden with sugar or other dubious non-foods, have a massive influence on how we link pleasure and food in our brain’s reward centres and hence our health and weight.

Around the time of the London Olympics, the BBC  on the 6th of August 2012 put out an interesting Horizon science programme, fronted by Michael Mosley catchy titled, Eat-fast-and-live-longer  . You should still be able to watch it on iPlayer, worth your time.  Mosley toured the Universities in America interviewing  researchers who were digging up  interesting evidence on the health and longterm benefits of such high nutrition low-calorie eating.

The evidence seems strong that, for those who can sustain this way of life, the health benefits are enormous. Much of the work has been done on lab rats. Their chow can be exactly controlled, while we, who have free will and both a long genetic programming to eat all the food that we can get hold of, and who, suddenly in meer decades, are surrounded by almost unlimited, low-cost, low nutritious, high sugar ‘food’, cannot be controlled like lab rats.  However hard we try, mostly we put on any weight we loose in the subsequent months or years after dieting.

So what to do?

Mosley, was keen not to go the way of his father with diabetes and a premature death, and after tests saw that while not overtly fat, he had considerable hidden visceral fat and poor blood indicators. He  looked at all the options.  From the strict calorie restriction dieters who manage impressive blood stats but under the kind of  life-long eating that few would take to and, for some, seems to verge on  an eating disorder.

Professor Longo was able to show that genetically engineered mice could live 40% longer by reducing levels of growth hormone I.G.F.1. This is the ‘go-go’ hormone. With less of this the body has the time to slow down the production of new cells in order to fix the cells it already has so repairing damage. Protein when eaten builds cells but also locks us into the go-go mode and can encourage too fast a growth, leaving no time for repair. Eating less protein and less often seems to help reduce IGF1 as well as the crucial glucose levels.

Dr. Veridy working in Chicago showed that by alternate day fasting, many key biomarkers we greatly improved and people rarely over ate on their ‘feed’ days. Professor  Matteson at the National Institute on Aging has shown that intermittent fasting can IMG_9120increase the resistance of neurons in the brain to dysfunction and degeneration in animal models of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease and stroke. It appears that alternate day fasting seems to stress your grey matter like exercise stresses and benefits your muscles.

IMG_9102So far it seems that Intermittent fasting  causes cellular responses that reduce oxidative damage and inflammation, optimize energy metabolism, and bolsters cellular production. However while it is not for everyone, and more research is needed on humans rather than animal models, it looks encouraging for some as a means to control the spread of all those negative things that tend to kill us, long before our time.

From this experience Mosley, along with Mimi Spencer wrote the book The Fast Diet or 5:2 which has become quite a  runaway bestseller since publication. This was followed by the helpful IMG_9101Fast Diet Recipe Book by Spencer alone.

The Alternate Day Diet by Dr. James Johnson has been selling well since 2008 and, along with Mosley’s book, gives both a good background to the important science that is underpinning these regimes, as well as practical advice as to how to successfully pull off the challenging thing of changing such a fundamental thing as what and when you eat.

My own experience in trialing this 5:2 regime over the last year is that is an effective and do-able means of stopping the rot.  While I was more interested in protecting my brain, I did loose 6 kilos and discovered a long-lost, ageing six-pack, under my belly, that was hiding there all along. However it seems to be that my love of food is such that I will always have to keep to this discipline if I am not to quite rapidly put on the kilos again as soon as I stop.  However even at is worst my own BMI etc. was never too bad. For those with major weight issues it might well be a greater challenge and certainly would take a longer time to see results.

Gastric band surgery seems to be one of the more hopeful, if drastic, methods that may be an answer for those who have struggled all their life with obesity and are now looking type 2 diabetes in the face with all its risks.  Certainly, at £5000 it is a cost saving for the NHS saving about £90,000 over the costs of looking after morbidly obese patients with all their raised risk factors and costs to the health service long-term. But it will take another decade or more before we know for sure what the long-term implications for this are, and the fear is that patients will swap one high risk of illness and death for another kind of malnutrition and its ills. Such are the challenges of the twenty-first century. And this is not just in the richest countries, such hazards are pressing down on many countries such as India even while millions still do not have enough to eat.

So if you are interested get that tape measure out and see where you stand. You could do worse than get some of these books and giving it a go. Reducing your intake of food from around 2000 calories a day to 5-600 for two separate days a week seems a gentle and do-able plan for many of us.

Of course making sensible and healthy choices to ensure that nutritional  quality rather than quantity is the key at all times is a good way to go. More plants, less meat, especially processed, smaller plates/portions, less sugar and alcohol seem a clear guide that is unlikely to change. But don’t forget to enjoy the food that you are lucky enough to be able to eat.

We live in a country that throws away 20% of all the food we produce/import! Let’s be grateful for what we are given and eat it in a spirit of gratitude, joy and thankfulness.


A Glimpse of China: September, 2015.

The first book about Chinese philosophy and culture I read at about the age of fifteen. I must have been a slightly strange 15-year-old to do so, but I do remember carrying The Importance of Living 生活的艺术 by the Chinese writer Lin Yutang onto the train going back to school at the end of the summer holidays. (Enough, it is starting to sound like Harry Potter). Cut to my early 20’s where I ended a year of Asian travel in Japan, escaping the smog of Tokyo, after another year, for Zen meditation in the hills near Kyoto.

Youthful explorations into Zen, in a Japanese country temple.

Youthful explorations into Zen, in a Japanese country temple.So East Asian culture has been in my system in small amounts for a long time.

After my week in Korea in June, (see previous blog on Korea here) the week’s work done, I wanted to make the most of all that profligate carbon footprint I incurred flying  and took myself off to see something of China for a couple of weeks on my way home, something I could not do 44 years ago, due to the Cultural Revolution. And boy, have things moved on!

So many people have now travelled around China, it is no longer the rather mysterious place it once seemed in my romantic, youthful fantasies reading the likes of Lin Yutang, nor the closed  mad house of the Cultural Revolution, as it was when I first wanted to visit from Japan.

With its 1.3 billion population and its booming economy China exerts a massive ‘gravitational’ pull on the rest of the world. Like some giant, dark star, out in the heavens, even if you have not seen it, you cannot escape its effect. As the Guardian leader writer put it, recently (11/8/15) when 250  Chinese human right lawyers were disappeared  and the Shanghai stock market was tumbling into the red; “When China does well, the world feels nervous. How high will it rise, and how peacefully? When China falters, the world worries”.

Sadly because of its communist dictatorship, cruel disregard for human rights both at home and in Tibet since its 1950 invasion and occupation, it is hard to approach the Chinese state in an open and neutral manner. But despite this I was determined to allow the feel of the people of China to wash over me. After all, most of us in this country don’t always approve of some of the governments that we end up with.


The Gate of Heavenly Peace. It is one of our endearing foibles that we humans would have the picture of a known psychopath with perhaps the death of 70 million on his hands, on a gate with this delightful pacific name!

First stop was a few days on my own exploring Beijing. The booming city is at the heart of the government and the epicentre of this rather paranoid, centralised party, that thinks it is the state. For the new western visitor, it is hard not to clash both with the long traditions of Confucian hierarchy, in themselves not an easy bedfellow to those weaned on the European Enlightenment, and also with the in-your-face power displays of the dictatorship of the party.

My exploration of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square started in good faith in a neutral fashion but the more I wandered the vast expanse of the Emperor’s old domain the less its brilliant artistry and magnificent architecture was my focus and the more its inhuman scale and extravagant bombast forced its way into my consciousness. For that whole afternoon it became more difficult to hold a merely curious historical perspective.  I had struggled to find a way out of the forbidden city. You cannot get out at the entrance but must go for a long traipse around the outside.  I was even reduced to paying a small amount to get out to avoid being forced to walk a very long way round to exit! I was starting to flag.

Watching the to and fro of young soldiers of the Red Army I was chatted up by two Chinese con artists. DSC00473Their brother-sister act is to try to get you to come to a coffee shop and  sting you for a huge bill. Luckily, easy-going though I am, I was not falling for that one. Negotiating the endless crowd control barriers I eventually found my way past  a begging man, with no arms, to  the underpass of the ten lane highway that runs around the square. I was trying  to gain access to Tiananmen Square, the worlds largest, at 440,000 square metres. Of course the very name is synonymous with a massacre to all but the younger Chinese. It was with a certain frisson of remembrance that I walked the vast and again, out of human scale, flag stones of this ugly, giant square.

If you could not smell a rat when first confronted with communist ideology, one look at its architecture and town planning should warn you off by its soulless, gargantuan brutality.


Tiananmen Square.

At one stage in my life I was quite sympathetic to the struggle of the Chinese and even the Chinese Communist Party. (CCP) They needed something sharp, ruthless and effective to throw off the constraints of the Western and Japanese powers busy carving out chunks from the country for their own ends, not to mention the endless chaos throughout the country as the millennium old system of government and culture collapsed. Before the triumph of the present regime they tried hard to bring in modern ways like democracy, but seem forever hamstrung by regressive fascist forces and endless corruption. The CCP’s heroic Long March of 1934/5 is, despite the myth-making, still a major modern creation myth sustaining the country and party, not dissimilar to our own attachment to the Battle of Britain, our own ‘finest hour’.

Now that we are well aware of  the barbaric actions as well as their dead-end, materialist philosophy, that is still underpinning and drives the CCP, it is hard to hold onto such naiveté. (“Now we must declare war on Nature!” said Mao. For detailed facts about the catastrophic results of such deadly ideas see Frank Dikőtter’s masterly scholarship in ‘Mao’s Great Famine about the ‘Great Leap Forward’ when such ideas, rammed through by Mao,  led China into a man-made, 45 million-death, famine, between 1958-62. This was a preamble to the  murderous mayhem  of the Cultural Revolution).

In the summer of 1966 Tiananmen Square was filled with over a million hysterical young Red Guards, parading past him on the Gate of Heavenly Peace, no irony intended. These indoctrinated young pawns in Mao’s final, ten-year, megalomaniacal struggle for ultimate power, were tools in his deadly game. Later in 1976 there were near riots here on the death of  Premier Chou Enlai while the young  pro-democratic students who  peacefully camped out there in 1989 were also sacrificed to the will of the party, although the thousands who were killed by their own army were killed in the streets around the square where I was staying, rather than in the famous square itself.

Despite the enormous changes since the bad old days of Mao it is not hard to see why modern, booming China has found itself with some of both the best and  the worst of both worlds of Capitalism and Communism. However, despite my carping, it does have to be said, that most Chinese are much more content with their government than we in the west are. And freedoms apart, for good reason. Never in the history of the world have so many, perhaps almost half a billion people, been pulled out of hard, grinding rural poverty, in one generation!

The impressive Urban Planning Exhibition Hall in downtown Shanghai shows the determination of the bright, young cadres, running China, to turn around the atrocious problems of pollution that now  plague the country and undermine the people’s health. I have no doubt they will achieve this and, just as London, still  today with air quality issues, was once famous for its acrid smog, so too Shanghai and other cities will be turned around in a few decades. However the issue  of meaning is more a challenge. As people pull themselves out of grinding poverty and start to look for greater meaning, autonomy, freedom and other  subtle needs in their lives, it is highly likely that, at some stage, they will succumb to the classic Maslow hierarchy of needs and graduate from pure materialism to start to push for greater freedoms and meaning in their lives.

The future challenges inherent in graduating from satisfying immediate needs of food and shelter to more subtle ones of values and meaning is already clear in small city states like Singapore and Hong Kong. Here top down, light-touch dictatorial government, has delivered economic prosperity. Like the failed Arab spring, things may be increasingly difficult  for the  unelected Chinese Communist Party.  There are a reported  24 million young Chinese who are addicted to  computer gaming. As the system ramps up the ruthlessly competitive nature of such a huge society more life can seem impossible for more and more  young Chinese,  often only children.  If they  awake from their  slumbers and re-engage with the broader society and are not  languishing, either jobless, in an ever extended  youth, or at least suppressed by an ever-present authoritarian police system, the previously admired state apparatus may start to look corroded and unfit for purpose. Despite the ever-present state apparatus of suppression and control which the  Confucian based Chinese culture has always had to some extent, it will be interesting to see how long bread and circuses, or nationalistic foreign adventures in the South China seas, will suffice.

But enough of all this misery. IMG_7905There is much to appreciate in this vast and impressive country.  Things have improved in a way that few could have ever imagined. If I am critical of their system I am no less critical of our own state. But that is for another time.

One of the high points for my short visit to China was a day walking along part of the more deserted section of the Great Wall that stretches from the coast 5,500 miles west into the Gobi desert, a distance equivalent to that between London and New York! This unique and impressive series of sixteen different walls, the result of, on average, the work of one million soldiers and labourers per year. Military marvel or supremely costly folly? So asks Wall expert William Lindsay.

For almost 2400 years emperors poured men and materials into this project. Often the  length of the emperor’s reign and life depended on his ability to  defend the state from the Xiongnu, the fearsome horse archers,  who came, as if from nowhere, out of the north, to terrorise the population.  So long is the collection of walls that the sun rises one hour and twenty minutes in the eastern end of the wall before those at the western end would see it.

Starting as sun-dried mud, and centuries later in its high point of development during the Ming dynasty, four hundred years ago, these evolved into billions of  large, very shock-resistant, high-tech bricks. They were held in place by a clever combination of lime  and sticky rice mortar, making it stronger than modern equivalents. Not surprisingly  the Wan Lee Chang Chung or wall, has a long association with death. Millions were mobilised to supply an endless supply of bricks and both erect and man the wall. At 115 men per kilometre to man such a structure, it tells us something both  of the extraordinary pressure on the state to defend itself at any cost, as well as the enormous resources of the pre-industrial China to feed and supply such a project.


The seemingly endless wall. Still today one marvels at this unique feat of engineering.

Why would a country invest such vast sums and effort to defend itself, one may ask? As always the figures themselves are of a unique proportion in China. The numbers who died under the waves of Mongol invasions are hard to comprehend. It is estimated that before he died each Mongol warrior killed an average of 210 people. The deaths from Mongol  invasion and the militarised hedonism of the likes of Genghis Khan far exceed the numbers who died in the 1st and 2nd world wars combined. In 1211 Genghis Khan invaded China with a force of 110,000 warriors, eventually in an orgy of rape and pillage tens of thousands were destroyed along with palaces and buildings torn down and torched. No wonder succeeding emperors poured such treasure into trying to safeguard the state!

Miserable as all this history is, to walk along the endless rise and fall of the  crumbling structure today, surrounded by the seemingly endless green mountainous country several hours drive north-east of Beijing, is to step back momentarily, from the onward rush of China today, and to slip into something of the vast past that, despite the vandalism of the twentieth century,  is never far behind the modern tumult.

Terracotta Warrior still with some of the colours on his life like form

Terracotta Warrior still with some of the colours on his life-like form

I enjoyed seeing the famous Terracotta Warriors in Xian, although I don’t think the guide could cope with my question about where they could find enough trained archeologists in 1974, after the years of the Cultural Revolution, when so may academics were attacked, sent down to labour in the country or just killed. Such questions are still not allowed in a carefully doctored state history.

Full of romantic memories of Chinese landscape paintings I especially  enjoyed a day walking up the great Yellow mountain, IMG_8079Huangshan.  Misty  mountain vistas inspiring visions of ancient literati, or Chan monks, enjoying the power and  fragility of nature.

Before heading to the bright lights of Shanghai I spent the night in the beautiful village of Hongcun, now more of an enclosed living museum. Somehow it works, and something of the old pre-revolutionary village life lingers on in the streets. Here one can transport one’s self  back to the China of old for a brief moment. To the beauty as well as the back-breaking work and horrendous inequality of the peasants and the rich landlords.IMG_8261

For all its vapid emptiness and brutal ruthlessness, at least the old CCP was trying for a kind of rough equality, that, as in the UK, this is rapidly being overtaken by the new authoritarian, communist run, capitalism. A new post-modern hybrid previously thought by political economists to be an impossibility.


Pudong New Area at night in all its impressive bling!

In Shanghai’s glitz East Nanjing Road  the new, get-rich/got-rich, China is on display.  Further down the road on the Bund on the west of the Huangpu river the old banks of the foreign concession years of the roaring, anything-goes, twenties look east to the highrise swagger of the likes of the new 121-storey, Shanghai Tower, of Pudong New Area. This, still the second tallest building in the world, is jostled by all sorts of  concrete symbols of the new wealth. It was  from here I took the bullet-fast, Maglev train out to Pudong International airport, on my way home.

A new world is forming hour by hour. What will be its future? One feels perhaps as early foreign travellers must have felt on first seeing the world’s first industrial city, Manchester, at the hight of the English Industrial Revolution. Something new and never before tried was a-foot. Its eventual outcome and influence on the world was as yet not fully known. What was to come was unknown, but that it would shake the world and change everything was clear. That is something one feels in  China, the land of every fifth person on earth today.

The selfies are out on the Bund, looking over to the Pudong New Area!

The selfies are out on the Bund, looking over to the Pudong New Area!

For good or ill, nothing will be the same. Let us just hope that the ever resilient people of China manage to create a good life for themselves. Cleaning up their, often wrecked environment, and, one day, managing to gain the kind of political freedoms and autonomy, that for all its faults, our own system is gradually allowing us to approach.

Despite my libertarian rejections of the authoritarian state, I was grateful  to have caught a glimpse of the momentous change, as it is happening. For students of society, surely an exciting privilege.

 Normal health related issues will soon be back, for those who tire of my travel musings.
Just to keep you going here is a thought from the The Great American Bio-chemist and Nutritional scientist and inventor of the term: Biochemical Individuality.
“Medicine is for real people.
Statistical humans are of little interest.”
— Dr. Roger Williams.
If you’d like to comment on any of this, or read what others have commented, you can do so below.

Clive Goes East…Again! July 2015

Long-term readers of these occasional blogs will know that early  in 2013 I was in Korea examining and Lecturing to an impressive group of doctors keen on my specialist subject of Professional Applied Kinesiology.IMG_7617

So when they volunteered to host the 2015 international conference I was happy to return and work in Seoul for another week doing more examining and attending and lecturing at the conference. Continue reading

Trip to Korea and China and introducing new practitioners

It is some months since I last wrote a blog for Helix House. The pressures of work have taken precedence. By the time you read this I will be in Korea again examining and lecturing at an international conference and then, while I am back in East Asia I will take the chance to finally visit China on my way home.

korea 1

The conference at which I shall be lecturing

This June we say goodbye to Osteopath and Acupuncturist Sara Barker after her several years of practice with us. She will be missed. However I am happy to say that, while I am away, I can leave the practice in good hands, with, not only my long standing colleague the highly experienced Osteopath Susan Farwell, but also introducing Oxford based Osteopath Morna Sung who will be available to help you.

If perhaps you are more in need of some professional massage and relaxation for your aching limbs I am happy to tell you that we have both Blanche Sanchez, who many of you will know in her role of Clinic Coordinator, who also offers Holistic Massage Therapy at Helix House, plus introducing the work of Samniang Boonlert (“Neon”) who is now offering Authentic Therapeutic Thai Massage at Helix House.

Watch this space for more cutting edge ideas on health and wellbeing, and perhaps also something about my impressions of returning to Korea and visiting China for the first time.


Introducing our new practitioners at Helix House…

Osteopathy with Morna Sung


Morna qualified as an Osteopath from Oxford Brookes University, with first class honours. She is registered with the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC), holds membership of the Institute of Osteopathy (iO) and is Membership Secretary for the Oxfordshire Osteopathic Network (OON).

Her osteopathic style focuses on you as an individual. She uses a structural yet holistic approach, examining your symptoms in a wider context including your lifestyle and wellbeing. She has successfully treated people from all walks of life, including expectant mothers, new mums, young children and babies, older people, sedentary office workers and athletes.

Morna offers a safe and highly-regulated system of diagnosis and hands-on treatment that focuses on the structure and function of the body. As an osteopath, she aims to help the body restore pain-free movement when its structural elements – the skeleton, muscles, ligaments and connective tissues – are not functioning as efficiently as they could.

“I had been suffering with pain in my lower back for a long time; it was even affecting my leg to the point that I was unable to sit down for more than 30 minutes. During the first appointment, Morna immediately diagnosed the problem and taught me some simple exercises to do on my own in order to complement a brief course of treatment with her and ease my pain that it has completely gone!” David P, Energy Analyst

Authentic Therapeutic Thai Massage with Neon

 SamniangSamniang Boonlert (“Neon”) is now offering Authentic Therapeutic Thai Massage at Helix House. Neon is from Thailand, and specialises in Traditional Thai deep tissue massage. Each treatment is tailored to the client’s individual needs, so that you can opt for a more relaxing massage or a firmer one, and ask for special attention to be given to whatever spots may be bothering you, such as stiff shoulders.

Neon has been living in the UK since 2009 and is married to an Englishman with whom she has one son. Based in Banbury, she is an experienced massage therapist who has been practicing for 9 years. Her philosophy is that she wants to work with you to get your body back to how you remember it.

Here’s what some of Neon’s clients have said:

If you have ever had the pleasure of experiencing this kind of deep, relaxing highly professional massage you will know how good it can feel to get your body back to a state of natural ease”. 

Impeccable and professional – She adjusts her massage to suit your body: for me she digs deep and I receive a hands on healing and relaxation, with my 20 year old daughter she tosses her agile body around in ways that my daughter loves.  I highly recommend her”. -Rob, Oxford


Full-body massage 1 hour:

Special Introductory Offer only valid for 2 weeks £25 (normal price £40)


Holistic Massage Therapy with Blanche

 BlanchejpegBlanche trained at the Oxford School of Massage for 2 years and holds a Holistic & Therapeutic Diploma and an ITEC Diploma in Anatomy & Physiology.

She holds a certificate in Lymphatic Drainage Massage. It is a gentle whole body treatment that relaxes the nervous system and aids the body’s immunity. It is especially useful for individuals who seem to suffer regularly from common illnesses like colds and flu. It is also recommended for people who lead sedentary lifestyles, or those who want to reduce puffiness or swelling…

Blanche holds a certificate in Pregnancy Massage. It helps with Edema, or swelling of the joints, it is often caused by reduced circulation and increased pressure on the major blood vessels by the heavy uterus. Massage helps to stimulate soft tissues to reduce collection of fluids in swollen joints, which also improves the removal of tissue waste, carried by the body’s lymph system.

Benefits of Pregnancy Massage:

  • Reduced back pain
  • Reduced joint pain
  • Improved circulation
  • Reduced edema
  • Reduced muscle tension and headaches
  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Improved oxygenation of soft tissues and muscles
  • Better sleep

She trained in the USA with crystal stone massage. When performing cold stone massage she chooses smooth crystals that glide easily over the skin, such as tumble stones, palm stones and or spheres. If she finds an area where the skin feels rough or less smooth she holds the crystal in that position for a while before continuing with circular motions around the area. She applies very light pressure on these areas.

Blanche holds a Holistic & Therapeutic Diploma and an ITEC Diploma in Anatomy &Physiology. She practices a gentle yet powerful combination of movement and rhythm, which leaves her feeling energised and the receiver with a great sense of relaxation and wellbeing.

She has gained experience working with many different conditions while she was working at the St John’s Convent in Oxford such as MS (multiple sclerosis), arthritis sufferers… and is now volunteering at the St John’s Convent as a Massage Therapist once a week.

”Massaging is my passion and if I can help relieve anyone from aches and pains or just to uplift the mind I am more than happy to do so.”

Blanche intensively trained with an Haitien Massage Therapist in the USA who has 30 yrs experience in crystal stone massage to perfect this technique to use in England on her clients.

 Holistic Massage Thereapy – What is it?

The holistic approach aims to restore balance within the body, taking into account the person’s whole being not just their physical symptoms or ailments.

Massage therapy is an ancient form of healing, used for thousands of years. Holistic massage combines a therapeutic and nurturing process of touch and response with each treatment adapted to the client’s unique needs, physical characteristics and personality.

Holsitic massage is a person centred treatment guided by principles of sensitivity, awareness and quality of touch.

Benefits of Holistic Massage:

Relieving tension and relaxing tight, sore muscles.

Improving skin and muscle tone.

Encouraging better circulation.

Awareness of body and breathing to improve posture.

Relieving stiff joints.

Promoting relaxation, thus reducing the effects of stress and anxiety.

Inducing a deeper sleep.

Aiding digestion.

Increasing energy by invigorating all the body systems therefore reducing fatigue.

Here’s what one of Blanche’s clients has said:

“I came to Blanche because I suffer from tension in the muscles of my back, which causes nerve pain in my arms. She is great at locating where problem areas are and tailoring the treatment to relieve any pain. Her massage is gentle but strong and I really felt the results after. My back felt loose and light as air.”


Full body including face and scalp massage: 1hr 30 £75

Back massage including face and scalp massage: 1hr £50

Back massage: 30 min £35


For more information about any of the treatments offered at Helix House you can visit our website or for any enquiries or to book a treatment please contact reception at Helix House on 01865 243351 or alternatively email

Taking life in your stride

Exhortations to move are common. These blogs are no exception. Perhaps far too many of my blogs have harped on about the health benefits of movement.

However, Professor Ulf Ekelund, a senior scientist in the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, has just published major new research in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, which followed 334,161 Europeans for 12 years. It suggests that eliminating inactivity in Europe would cut mortality rates by nearly 7.5%, or 676,000 deaths, but eliminating obesity would cut rates by just 3.6%.

The research shows that being sedentary may be twice as deadly as being obese. I am encouraged to see, that, despite the few months of inconvenience and £1.3million cost, road works in my local St. Clements roundabout, should make the area safer for all of us cyclists to negotiate, so encouraging us to cycle rather than take the bus and potentially, reducing the risks of us being part of those 676,000 European deaths, both through safer road engineering and through greater activity!

Professor Ekelund, who is based in Norway, is into cross-country skiing. However, he says all it would need to transform health, is brisk walking. Even a little exercise -a brisk 20-minute walk each day, for example – is enough to reduce the risk of an early death by as much as 30 percent!

Part of Wainwrights beautiful Coast to Coast walk.

Part of Wainwrights beautiful Coast to Coast walk.

What then could be  simpler than walking? This was, after all, unless you were wealthy enough to have a horse, the primary means of land travel throughout history, until a mere few generations ago.

Recently there has been a renewed interest in walking as an effective way of improving health as well as helping deal with depression and obesity. Walking has consistently been reported as the most popular outdoor recreational activity in the United Kingdom. (Office for National Statistics, 2003).Scientists at the University of Lincoln have tried to look at the more nuanced benefits that long distance walking, especially the, so-called, greenexercise i.e. walking in nature, can bring to counter indoor dejection . Unsurprisingly their research shows that regular walking can elicit significant psychological benefits such as the reduced effects of life-stress, and promotes increased sense of wellbeing and personal growth.

The Suprise best seller, optioned by Witherspoon and her company before it came out after one weekend reading!

The Suprise best seller, optioned by Witherspoon and her company before it came out after one weekend reading!

Suppose you are already keeping slim and exercising, but you are just suffering the malady of modern life, like writer Cheryl Strayed

The recent release of Reese Witherspoon’s film of Cheryl Strayed’s best selling book,  Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found explores the potential healing power of long distant walking. This is a  touching, brilliant, poignant, redemptive memoire of Strayed’s epic 1,100 mile journey through the wilderness and into her self, after her mother’s early death and her imploding life, as she walked The American Pacific Crest Trail

At the highest point of the Wonderful if  only slightly challenging Coast to Coast, a little tough, but no Pacific Trail!

At the highest point of the Wonderful if only slightly challenging Coast to Coast, a little tough, but no Pacific Trail!

Readers of these blogs will know that I have dabbled with longish walking, first part of the Camino de Santiago and, more recently, walked across the country on the incomparable Wainwright, Coast to Coast route.

I really enjoyed the intensely honest book when it came out a few years ago and will be interested to see what Witherspoon has done turning it into a film. Strayed has done what all good writers aspire to in memoire, that is allowing us to engage with her particular story, and then see our own universal struggles reflected back to us in her unique, individual account.

With so few good parts written for women in Hollywood films it is great to see this strong, no nonsense, sometimes harrowing, self-transformative story, getting a wider exposure through film. As the father of three strong women, I am aware that young girls, growing up in our still distorted, often misogynistic culture, need to see more of such role models that Strayed and Witherspoon offer. The film is directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and is produced by and stars Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl and Laura Dern as Cheryl’s mother Bobbi, with a screenplay by Nick Hornby.

Such stories of female struggle in an often dangerous and predatory world highlight and affirm the important message that gender is no bar to taking on tough challenges, that no man, no relationship will make one whole. In a world where women can be imprisoned just for driving a car, as Strayed recently said on BBC radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, it is still, bizarrely, a radical notion to show that women are fully human and can do things, on and for, themselves.

“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told”. Cheryl Strayed

Reece Witherspoon as Strayed, also struggled with that gargantuan monster pack, even just filming.

Reece Witherspoon as Strayed, also struggled with that gargantuan monster pack, even just filming.

As Lesley Garner put it, when also writing on this, in the idiosyncratic Sunday Telegraph recently, (January 4 2015), “walking is cheaper than psychiatry…and safer than psychotic drugs”. 

Over thousands of years people have gone on pilgrimages.

They walked to get away from the restrictions of village life and /or to gain spiritual benefit. This was either on arrival at their chosen site of special reverence, or perhaps as much, from meeting others on the way (Canterbury Tales?) and change of view both outer and inner that the rigors of long distant walking gives one.

Helen Raphale Sands beautiful book.

Helen Raphale Sands beautiful book.

But crops have to be planted, children cared for, work commitments honoured, so for many of us the chance to just take off for an extended tramp comes rarely. Maybe we are not inclined, in the first place, to suffer the pains involved. Perhaps this is one reason for the evolution of labyrinths, those curious, ancient symbols that have captured our imagination for thousands of years. Here in those circular paths one can compress something of those long distant walks as my dear friend Helen outlined in her excellent book on the subject. Walking the inner path of the imagination as a meditation. But we dont even need a labyrith. We can access nature in a garden, on a balcony, in a park or if you are unable to get out and walk, just by looking out of a window.

Research has shown that patients with bedside windows looking out on leafy trees healed, on average, a day faster, needed significantly less pain medication and had fewer postsurgical complications than patients who instead saw a brick wall. So why wait until you have the misfortune to end up in such a dangerous place as a hospital? Taking one’s self out into nature, either walking or just looking, clearly is beneficial to us all. It would seem patently obvious to us all, and not need saying in any other culture but our own, over urban, digitalised, post modern one.

Walking in nature does two excellent things. It moves our bodies, so activating all those known and unknown physiological benfits, and it reconnects us back to our own place as part of nature, so reminding us, either consciously or unconsciously of the deep and unfathonable intelligence we are a part of. From which we come, to where we return, and where we never left. the Budhha himself attained enlightement under a tree, and later encouraged his followers to retreat to the forest to attain the stillness needed to see into ones own true nature.

if your feet are not tired, you probably have not walked the trail!

if your feet are not tired, you probably have not walked the trail!

So whether we walk a labyrinth in a quiet half an hour or the Mighty Pacific Crest Trail in a long, foot sore summer, we can all gain some insight with that invaluable mixture of solitude, exertion and nature. Walk on!