Author Archives: Alan Gornall

Lent

I am not a practising Christian, but I always find Lent to be a great time to make changes in my life. Somehow I feel less pressure than I do with New Year’s resolutions, and the 40 day period of Lent feels like a manageable chunk of time to change behaviour. If it sticks, great, if it doesn’t then there is no shame.

This year I have been trying to shed a few pounds. It is nice to try and follow the advice that I routinely give to patients as it gives me the opportunity to see how hard it is on the receiving end and how hard it is to summon up one’s own willpower and draw on one’s own support networks in order to resist the desire to eat more than is good for you.

My goal is to lose the weight by making a sustainable change in my diet, rather than engage in a weight loss diet per se. It is always hard to know what you can eat following a diet, and it is very easy to rebound from weight loss and put it straight back on again.

My chosen text is the Holford Diet by Patrick Holford. There is a fair amount to it, but essentially, all foods are given a GL score so that you can work out how much you are allowed to eat. Once you get the hang of it, it is not too bad and it gives you a good insight into how your body works and what drives your hunger.

Simply, if you divide up a plate of food, half of it should be green, leafy vegetables, a quarter should be carbohydrate and a quarter should be protein. Within the plan, you can have three square meals and two snacks, but your total for a day while you are finding your correct weight is 40 GL per day. If you do it right, the weight should fall away gradually and the good part is that you don’t get hungry and feel more energetic.

I have had a few wobbles and got through a huge pile of cabbage, but so far so good, and I will wait and see how I feel by Easter.

Acupuncture shown to work for depression

Acupuncture is as good as counselling for treating persistent depression, and provided alongside the usual care, can alleviate the symptoms of the mental illness, according to a study by the University of York and reported in The Times on September 25 2013.

For the full published research in PLOS Medicine, use this link: http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.1001518.

It is good to read research like this as it reinforces my own experience in the treatment room where I frequently achieve very good results with patients suffering from anxiety or depression.

8-15 September is Fibromyalgia Awareness Week

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition of widespread pain and profound fatigue. The pain tends to be felt as diffuse aching or burning, often described as head to toe. It may be worse at some times than at others. It may also change location, usually becoming more severe in parts of the body that are used most.

More details can be found at Fibromyalgia Association UK, NHS or FibroAction.

Acupuncture can help with specific symptoms such as pain, muscle fatigue and headache but can also have ancillary benefits such as improved sleep, relaxation, and results in a feeling of improved wellbeing.

This is backed up by research findings:

  • Zhang W, Liu ZS, Xu HR, Liu YS (2011) found that Acupuncture has a good therapeutic effect (including immediate and midterm effect) in the treatment of chronic fatigue syndrome patients.
  • Liu CZ, Lei B (2012) found that Acupuncture can adjust metabolism of serum oxygen free radicals in CFS.

If you want to book in for an appointment or a free, no obligation 15 minute consultation, then please ask at reception: 01273 483327.

Coming off Medication

I have been mulling over my last blog post and would like to make it clear that I would never advise a patient to make any change to their medication without consulting their doctor first.

The purpose of the article was to point out the issues associated with painkillers where a patient has choices to make over whether and when to take them.

However, in addition to the issue of reducing a patient’s intake of painkillers, there are other times when acupuncture treatment supported by lifestyle changes can enable patients to reduce their need for medication.

Significant reduction to hypertension can result from acupuncture. This can be augmented by reduction in salt intake and taking garlic as a supplement. Weight loss and increased exercise if appropriate can also help.

Acupuncture treatment can also be used to support weight loss that can significantly improve cases of Type II diabetes.

The Problem with Painkillers

Pain is unpleasant and sometimes a pill can be the difference between bearable and unbearable suffering.

No simple description of pain can be very useful. There are many causes and many types. Pain can be acute or chronic; it can be stabbing, diffuse, sharp or dull, dragging or intermittent. The quality of pain is very helpful to an acupuncturist in diagnosing a patient’s condition and formulating treatment.

When there is an injury, pain receptors send pain messages to the brain. Painkilling medication works by inhibiting these messages, either at their source or in the brain itself. However there is a point of view, and one that is in tune with my treatment philosophy, that pain messages should be listened to and heeded. Rest or a change in habit can give long term relief and resolution of pain symptoms but may take longer to provide relief than medication.

Most painkillers are derived from two naturally occurring substances: aspirin and opium. There are a number of effects associated with taking painkillers other than the relief of pain, and these effects are often greater with long term use.

Ibuprofen can cause a number of side effects. For this reason, take lowest possible dose of ibuprofen for the shortest possible time needed to control your symptoms. Common side effects of ibuprofen include: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, indigestion and abdominal pain. Taking it for extended periods can increase risk of stroke and heart attack.

High dose side effects of aspirin include ulcers, stomach bleeding and tinnitus.

Paracetamol has no anti-inflammatory effect but can reduce temperature and relieve mild pain. It is generally thought to have few side effects but overdosing can cause severe liver and kidney damage.

Opiate painkillers can be addictive. They can cause side effects including constipation, drowsiness, dry mouth, and difficulty urinating

Endorphins are neurotransmitters that are our body’s own opiates. “Endorphin” is a contraction of “endogenous morphine”. They are produced when we experience stress. Endorphin release from neurons increases during exercise and this is thought to promote a feeling of well-being. Endorphin release has also been linked with acupuncture, providing natural pain relief during treatment.

The relationship between our own pain and our use of painkillers is a personal one and I believe that is as it should be. However, I do ask my patients during each treatment session how many painkillers they have taken since the last session as this is a fairly objective measure of how effective treatment is. If a patient is taking fewer painkillers it is usually a sign of an improvement in their condition.

Five Foods to Avoid

A patient asked me during treatment the other day what I thought the five worst foods were. I could easily think of two: Bananas and grapes. Most people think of these as healthy foods and indeed they do have many healthy properties. Bananas are an excellent source of vitamin B6, soluble fiber, and contain moderate amounts of vitamin C, manganese and potassium. Grapes are regarded by many as almost magical, containing health promoting phyto-nutrients such as poly-phenolic antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. However these are the two foods that I most frequently advise patients to avoid. I added dried fruits, alcohol and coffee to complete my top five foods to avoid.

My reason for choosing the first three and my initial thinking behind compiling the list was that most prevalent food-related problem that I see in patients is weight control. It is one thing to advocate balance and moderation, but quite another to practice it if it leaves you hungry all of the time. The problem with bananas, grapes and dried fruit is that they have a very high glycemic load (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glycemic_load) and due to the way that sugar metabolism works, in simple terms, the more of them you eat, the hungrier you feel.

Alcohol, for all its other failings is essentially liquid sugar and so explains that need to snack when returning from the pub. Coffee is a stimulant and removes sugar from the blood, leaving one hungry and looking to replenish supplies.

I firmly believe that managing the Glycemic Load of the food that one eats is the key to a trim waistline while at the same time not being plagued by hunger pains. I can thoroughly recommend Patrick Holford’s book “The Holford Diet” to anyone who wants to lose weight based on the GL principle.

However, on reflection, this is a pretty poor list. I have focused on whole foods because that is what I am familiar with. But the curse of modern life is processed food. So, the next person that asks me I will probably say: Cake, Biscuits, White bread, white rice and ready meals.