Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why mid-life health kicks can WRECK men's bodies: Jogging and low-fat food will make you fatter and damage your heart

Hitting 40 marks a turning point for many men and their health.   Their metabolism slows, leading to the dreaded belly and the first signs of ageing and long-term disease — raised blood cholesterol and high blood pressure — begin to appear.

Last week, came the gloomy prediction that almost two thirds of men aged between 40 and 100 will be obese by 2040, risking type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and early death.

The thickening waist and heightened sense of mortality is often enough to kick start a new regimen, which usually means choosing low-fat foods and taking up jogging (indeed, jogging is almost as much a rite of passage for the middle-aged man as buying a fast car, with David Cameron and Boris Johnson recently spotted pounding the pavements).

But these are actually the worst things the middle-aged man can do, says Dr Charles Clark, a consultant surgeon and expert on diabetes.  Like a growing number of experts, Dr Clark (an honorary research fellow at the University of Glasgow), says low-fat diets could be making our long-term health worse.  That’s because they are often high in sugar and carbohydrates.

Dr Clark and others believe sugar, and its effect on the hormone insulin, is the real dietary evil behind our ever-rising obesity levels and our frightening incidence of heart disease.

In a new book, he claims that controlling insulin is the key to protecting a man’s heart, and also protecting him against a host of potential killers — raised cholesterol, diabetes, cancers — as well as reducing his risk of arthritis and obesity, and even boosting his libido.

It is a controversial view, but Dr Clark has strong medical credentials, having published more than 80 scientific research articles in high-profile journals such as  the British Medical Journal.

As for jogging, Dr Clark says if you’re unfit, it’s a quick-fire way of destroying your hip and knee joints and placing a tremendous strain on your heart and lungs.

But all is not lost, for Dr Clark believes men can dramatically improve their health, and reduce their risk of killer diseases, in as little as two weeks by making a few very simple changes.

Here are some of his key recommendations.


We’ve long been told that high-fat  foods (such as cream and cheese) clog up the arteries. So, for most men, going low-fat would seem the obvious way to eat healthily.

But Dr Clark says dietary cholesterol accounts for just 15 per cent of the total cholesterol in our bodies — the rest is manufactured by the liver.

As he explains it, the problem is sugar. In response to sugar in the blood, the body produces the hormone insulin.

This in turn instructs the liver to metabolise dietary fat and convert any extra food in the blood into triglycerides (a form of blood fat).

These triglycerides are bundled into globules transported through the blood to be taken up by the fat cells. That’s how excess food makes us fat.

Insulin also controls the extent to which the liver creates and pumps out cholesterol. Scientists believe high insulin levels are more likely to trigger the production of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol.

When insulin levels are reduced, the liver cells find it harder to convert the fat in food into cholesterol and tends to pump out more ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.

Dr Clark says low-fat diet foods (yoghurts, ready-meals, biscuits, even salad dressings) are very often pumped with extra sugar to make them palatable and people on low-fat diets are very likely to fill up on carbohydrates, both of which raise insulin levels, increasing LDL and triglycerides.


Exercise plays an important role in keeping insulin levels under control.

But while jogging is an excellent form of exercise when you are fit, it is also an excellent way of precipitating a heart attack when you’re not, says Dr Clark.

If you are overweight with poor muscle tone, jogging is a fast track to ruining your hip and knee joints and put unbearable strain on your heart and lungs.

Instead, start exercising slowly and build up your fitness gradually by walking for 20 minutes five times a week, and adding some gentle muscle-building exercises (such as lifting light weights) and stretching.


Cat lovers beware! One bite from a cat can put you on the critical list

"A few weeks ago I was at my friend Helena’s house playing with her cat, Mr Fluff, when he suddenly lashed out.  Mr Fluff is a cutie, but he’s a very aggressive moggie — and has been confirmed as semi-feral by a cat behaviouralist.

I’ve never left Helena’s house without a map of scratches on my arm.   This time Mr Fluff flipped and leapt at me with a low growl. Hanging on to my arm with his claws, he sunk his teeth into my wrist twice.  I flung him off and, while spinning around, whacked my wrist against the door-frame. Ouch. Helena came running.

Mr Fluff was now crouched, hissing. She tried to pick him up to soothe him, but he shot at her foot and bit it, too.

Thinking little of it (other than that Mr Fluff could do with a relaxing spa day), we washed our bites with soap and water, slathered on Sudocrem and I went to bed.

The next morning my hand hurt. I ignored it. But when I tried to pull my tights on, I couldn’t grip them to yank them up. My hand was red and swollen.

I went to Chelsea & Westminster A & E and regaled them with the tale of human versus cat while I had my tetanus jab.

I couldn’t understand why they kept asking me about the tiny bites on my wrist. And then an X-ray revealed I had no fracture.  ‘We think your hand is infected,’ the nurse explained.

‘A cat bite is much worse than a dog or rat bite. It’s the worst animal in the UK to be bitten by.  'Their mouths are filthy, swimming in bacteria. But because it’s so rare that they bite, it’s not widely talked about.’

I listened, half amused, as they told me I would go for a ‘wash out’ the next morning under general anaesthetic. The procedure sounded innocuous, so why would I need a general?   ‘We’re just going to explore the wound,’ the surgeon explained.  ‘You’ll probably be OK to go home tomorrow.’

They hooked me up to an antibiotic drip while, using my BlackBerry, I changed my Facebook status to a jolly ‘Catherine Gray has been hospitalised by a cat!’ before drifting off to sleep.

When I came round, searing agony gradually set in.  ‘We’ve opened up the two bite marks and made two new incisions. There was a lot of pus to drain,’ the  surgeon explained.  ‘I’ve fed antiseptic ribbons through your hand to fight the infection further.’  These ribbons are gauze soaked in antiseptic, more commonly used after the removal of cysts.

The pain was such that nurses came with vials of morphine for me to gulp down every few hours.

I learnt that dog bites turned infectious around 15-20 per cent of the time, but cat bites do in 50 per cent of cases because moggies have thin, pointy teeth, which effectively inject you with bacteria.  Even if you wash the wound immediately, chances are you won’t get the bacteria out.

I read of a woman in Wales who died after contracting a rare blood disorder caused by a cat bite.

Now, I was scared. Nobody had explained the peril I was potentially in; presumably because they didn’t want me to panic.

I later learned the danger was particularly severe because  the bites were to my wrist.  As Dr Suranjith Seneviratne, a clinical immunologist from London’s Royal Free Hospital, explains: ‘The wrist is  packed with tendons and blood vessels, so infection can be pumped to vital organs very quickly and cause them to fail in extreme cases.’

I’d originally been told I could probably go home later that day.  ‘We want to keep you in another night, just to keep an eye on you’ was the casual verdict.

Day after day rolled by. I was regularly pumped with antibiotics and my hand slowly healed. There were four scarlet incisions, each about a centimetre long and deep.

I whiled away the time with The Hunger Games trilogy, and could now waggle my fingers. I was high as a kite on morphine and tramadol and quite enjoying myself.

A test on the third day showed that the cat had given me Pasteurella multocida and Staphylococcus aureus.  An internet search revealed that both were potentially lethal. I didn’t want to know more.

‘If bacteria such as these travel from the soft tissue of the hand into the bloodstream, they can go to vital organs such as lungs very quickly, and can absolutely cause death,’ Dr Seneviratne tells me now.

This is because they can trigger sepsis, where the immune system goes into overdrive and begins attacking the body, leading to organ failure. I am really, really glad I didn’t know that at the time.

But after four nights came the words of doom: ‘Another washout in the morning.’  I argued against it.

‘But I can wiggle my fingers! It feels all better!’ I pleaded, only to be told sternly: ‘If we don’t get all of the infection out, the consequences could be extremely serious.’

The previous time I’d been wheeled to theatre I was enjoying  the novelty of my first hospital overnighter. This time, my face was ashen and I was trembling from nerves. I was worried I would come out without a hand.

When I came round two hours later, my hand was still there but the pain was excruciating. My teeth chattered.  It took seven doses of morphine for the pain to come down to bearable — usually you only get one dose every few hours.

At night, I barely slept. I begged the nurses for as much morphine as they could administer.

When three doctors swept back my curtain at 11am the next day, I physically winced.  But it was good news: ‘Your tendons are fine. You can go home later today. You’ll need to come back in a week for us to check the wound and for physiotherapy.’

For the next fortnight, I couldn’t really type. My mum or boyfriend washed my hair because I couldn’t get the bandage wet. I would dictate texts to my boyfriend.

Two months on, although full range of movement has been restored, a too-firm handshake makes me flinch.  I’ve been told I might never recover complete function of my hand so may not be able to play tennis or horse-ride again.

My hand is still inflamed, and the scars are blood red. My friends have affectionately dubbed my hand ‘the mutant claw’.  But at least I’m alive.

‘People underestimate the danger a domestic cat bite can do,’ says Dr Seneviratne.

‘Obviously being bitten by a stray cat is far worse, due to rabies, but bacteria such as Pasteurella are often missed by GPs, so it’s crucial to go to A&E with a cat bite.

‘You would have been at risk of death had you not received the right treatment so promptly.  'Those with a low immune system, say someone ill, are even more at risk.

‘I’m not remotely anti-cat,’ he adds. ‘A human bite is far more lethal, because we have more bacteria in our mouths than any other animal, yet no one would suggest all humans should be banished.

'But people do need to be educated that cats are the most dangerous animal in the UK to be bitten by.’

The only thing I’m bitter about is that I’m now slightly nervous around animals. Recently a feisty spaniel play-nipped me, not hard, but I burst into tears.

I still love cats, but the nation does need to know that our furry best friends are potentially lethal.


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