Saturday, 8 April 2017

April 2017: biotics: pro or anti, pre or syn?


Pro, pre, antibiotics, even synbiotics: you feel tired even before you start to read. So I’ll keep it simple.

Biotic means: to do with life.
Antibiotics kill or slow down the growth of bacteria. 
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for us, especially for our digestive system. 
We usually think of bacteria as something that causes diseases. However, our body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. (So what did the antibiotics, mentioned above, do? Correct, they killed them, both the good and the bad. Pity.)
Prebiotics are themselves indigestible, but they stimulate the activity of micro-organisms which are good for us: they are food for the probiotics. Probiotics introduce the good bacteria; prebiotics act as a fertilizer for those good bacteria that are already there [1].
Synbiotics contain both pro- and prebiotics.

Antibiotics kill, and this is the defining word. They fight infections caused by bacteria, but they kill indiscriminately. They are not effective against viral infections like colds, most sore throats, and flu. Not only are they not effective: they kill the good guys, the ones who’d HELP us fight them. 
And almost all important bacterial infections are becoming resistant to antibiotics.
The misuse of antibiotics has contributed to one of the world’s most pressing public health problems today [2]. See also the article in the New Scientist, on the right hand side. 
However, there are alternative ways to fight infections, ways which will not damage all of us in the process. Garlic, onions, quality honey and ferments, cider vinegar, cabbage, fruit and veg in general, achieve the same results without doing any damage - on the contrary [3]. 
If there really is no other way, here is a list with the best foods to have after taking antibiotics: [3a].

Probiotic supplements are fashionable and easy to get. They have shown benefits in treating IBS, constipation, diarrhea, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and many other digestive issues. Probiotic foods however, offer a much wider variety of beneficial bacteria. Ferments like live culture yoghurt, sauerkraut, sourdough bread, kefir, pickles and unpasteurized cheeses are, in the long run, far better for us than the pills [4].

Prebiotics: natural prebiotics are in: whole grains, garlic, onions and leeks, peas, beans, leafy greens and asparagus, bananas, berries and quality honey [5].

Synbiotics: when probiotics and prebiotics are combined, they form a synbiotic. To get your synbiotics the natural way, you could have yoghurt with honey or fruit, beans with pickles, or greens sautéed with garlic and sour cream [6]. Kefir has them both on its own.


I know I'm always on about FAT - trying to rid it of its bad name. Look at this webpage, where you should find a BBC podcast which explains how the latest research has overturned all the 'expert' advice we have been fed for decades:


purple sprouting broccoli, chard, cabbage, leeks, spring onions, spinach, watercress, loose-leaved lettuce, radish, sorrel, spring greens.

direct: lettuce, rocket, radish, beet, broad beans, calabrese, kohlrabi, parsnips, peas, spinach (beet), spring onions, chard, carrots. Plant: summer cabbage, onion sets (early), potatoes, cabbage, leeks. Sow to transplant: leeks, brussels, sprouting broccoli, autumn cauli, kale.



60g fresh young nettle tops (4 big handfuls), 400g cooked white beans, 2 tbsp olive oil, 2-3 cloves chopped garlic, 750ml water, salt, pepper, extra-virgin olive oil. 
Wash nettle tops, put into a pan along with the water that is clinging to them, and cook slowly until wilted (5 mins). Drain, (keep drained juice and add to soup), chop. Heat oil, add garlic and cook very gently for 1-2 mins, taking care that it doesn't colour. Add beans and water, simmer for 5 mins. Mash with potato masher, stir in nettles. Taste, season generously, simmer. This is meant to be a thick, coarse soup. Spoon into bowls, swirl oil over the top. Serve with nice bread.
450g white cabbage, 1 onion, 2 tblsp olive oil, 2 tsp garam masala or curry powder, 25g sunflower seeds, salt. 
Shred cabbage and onion finely. Heat oil, add both, mix. Add masala, turn down the heat. Cover and leave to cook for 10 mins, stirring occasionally: you may need to add a tiny bit of water so it doesn't burn. Season with salt, sprinkle with seeds, serve.

Mix well-cooked broccoli or other greens with minced garlic and olive oil while still warm. Spread toast with (peanut)butter and put the veg on top. Add lots of chillipowder. 
You can replace the peanut butter with cheese if you like. 

4 medium potatoes, 4 tblsp flour, mixed herbs, 4 tblsp dripping, pepper, salt.
Grate the potatoes, add flour, herbs and plenty of seasoning. Heat the fat, drop in heaped tablespoons of the mix. Fry 4 minutes on each side. With chutney for instance. 

For more recipes, see April former years (right hand side, click on 2017 and then on April).

Next month: how to get out of the SUGAR habit. If you want to have a look at this now, go to

See also the September 2015 issue about antibiotics, and its attendant article ‘Microbe City’ (
In the case of garlic, the best way to use this is leave it for 5 minutes after chopping, before you heat it up. And don’t cook for longer than 15-30 minutes (
[4] Wholefood shops are the best places to find proper pickles. Seek out varieties that are brined in water and sea salt instead of vinegar. Vinegar brine won’t allow the beneficial bacteria to grow.

New Scientist: Antibiotics

From the New Scientist, 5/4/2017 (excerpt)
How we can make friends with harmful bacteria - Drew Smith. 

Antibiotics are among the safest drugs. Indeed, doctors even prescribe them for viral infections, knowing they are useless, on the grounds that “it can’t hurt”.
Except that it can. And not just because it leads bacteria to develop resistance to the drugs. Antibiotic-associated diarrhoea and allergic reactions commonly send people to hospital. And antibiotic use is almost always the cause of diarrhoea associated with Clostridium difficile, which kills nearly 30,000 Americans every year.
But people who study the microbiome suggest the toll may be far higher. One study in Denmark, for example, revealed that people who redeemed five or more antibiotic prescriptions over the course of a 15-year period were much more likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared with those who took antibiotics once or less during this time.
Beyond diabetes, changes in the balance of bacteria in our guts are now associated with obesity, inflammatory and autoimmune disorders and even depression. Antibiotic use, especially in childhood, has been found to be a risk factor for all of these.
In some sense, links to obesity shouldn’t be news. Antibiotics have been used to fatten livestock since the 1940s. The first study showing a similar effect in people dates to 1955. But the mechanism was a mystery and there was little interest in follow-up. Germs were our enemy, antibiotics got rid of germs, so antibiotics were good, right?
Until the last decade, few imagined that gut bacteria might be needed for the development of our immune, metabolic and nervous systems. But it’s becoming clearer as links between the use of antibiotics and an increased risk of diabetes, psychosis, anxiety, depression and obesity steadily grow.

There is a lot that we still don’t know about the balance of bacteria in our bodies, but we now know enough to understand that constantly disrupting it is imprudent, even dangerous. Even if the rise of antibiotic resistance did not drive a need for alternative therapies, the need to preserve our health does.


1 in 3 - Number of unnecessary prescriptions for antibiotics
25,000 - People in the European Union who die from antibiotic resistant infections each year
99 per cent - The proportion of bacteria in or on our bodies that do us no harm

Saturday, 1 April 2017

April 2016: diabetes type 2


Diabetes type 2 is the more common version of diabetes nowadays, and that’s what we will talk about here. For more info about diabetes 1, see [1].

Whenever we eat carbs - in fruit, veg and grains - the digestive system turns them into glucose. Glucose is the fuel that all your cells need to produce energy: it is essential for life. Even so, it’s not easy for the glucose to enter the cells. For that, insulin is needed, a hormone produced by the pancreas after every meal.
When insulin reaches the cells, it acts like a key that opens a lock for glucose to gain access.
If the digestive system creates glucose slowly, moderate levels of insulin are released. They have time to 'think' about where that glucose is needed most and send it there.
However, if too much glucose is produced, this is bad for us. When lots of it enters the bloodstream, the pancreas releases a huge amount of insulin, which quickly transfers glucose to the fat stores where it can do no harm: only weight gain results.

In the case of type 2 diabetic people, the insulin doesn't work properly anymore: the 'lock' on their cells is jammed. This is called insulin resistance. 
When the cells don't get their fuel, fatigue and dizziness result. Increased nighttime urination, thirst and appetite; weight gain or loss, or blurred vision, are just some of the early symptoms. [4]
The sugar which remains in the bloodstream becomes toxic and causes cell damage [2]. This contributes to aging and furring of the arteries and, eventually, all sorts of dangerous complications. [3]
Because the insulin is not working as it should, the pancreas increases production to the point that the cells become exhausted and stop producing it.
So what can we do? 

omega 3 (in fatty fish such as wild salmon, sardines, anchovies, etc.).
fiber (wholegrains, veg, fruit skins, nuts, seeds).
lots of vegetables and fruit.
fat: high-fat dairy is good for you! [5]
whey, see [6] 
chromium, see [7]
virgin coconut oil, apparently: see [8]
cider vinegar [9]
for food and supplements, see also [10]

You will benefit, for instance, from the following:
apple, avocado, barley, beans, berries, broccoli, brussels’, chicory, fenugreek, nuts, onions, garlic, tea, turmeric, quality vinegar, bay leaves, green beans, buckwheat, bulghur, oats, prunes, spinach, kale, cabbage, whole grains, sweet potatoes, Ceylon (true) cinnamon [11].

hydrogenated (in margarines and fat shortenings) and saturated fats. However, fat in whole milk (products) is good. See [12].
“Avoid artificial sweeteners. The sweet taste in your mouth triggers the release of insulin, even though there might not be any sugar that needs to be dealt with. Candies and gum trigger the same reaction.” [13]
monosodium glutamate, the flavour-enhancer MSG or E621. See [14].
For more details in general, see [15].

Be careful with diabetes drugs. For the latest research, and problems/dangers look at [16]. See also an article in the New Scientist (on the right hand side of this page) "Diabetes drugs may sometimes do more harm than good". 

For information about diabetes in older people, and possibly reversing diabetes, see [17] and [18] respectively. 

Type 2 diabetes is a dietary and lifestyle disease. Changing your ways is never easy, but it's worth at least a try. Good luck!

PS if you have the stomach for a long but interesting article which mentions the influence of diet on diabetes 2, click on "FAT versus CARBS" under July 2016.


To eat:
purple sprouting broccoli, chard, cabbage, leeks, spring onions, spinach, watercress, loose-leaved lettuce, radish, sorrel, spring greens.
In this 'hungry gap' month, it might be particularly welcome to know that/how you can eat radish greens: see [19].

To sow:
direct: lettuce, rocket, radish, beet, broad beans, summer cabbage, calabrese, kohlrabi, parsnips, peas, spinach (beet), spring onions, chard, early carrots, autumn cauli, salsify, scorzonera, celeriac, celery. Late April: courgettes, french beans, pumpkins.
Plant: onion sets, potatoes, summer cabbage.
Sow to transplant: leeks, brussels, sprouting broccoli, autumn cauli, kale, tomatoes (indoors).
Garden Organic is an excellent source of information in general; they also sell seeds and whatever else you may need: see 

And - help the bees.
we need bees for pollination and they rely on our gardens for feeding centres. Make sure you have masses of nectar-rich, bee-friendly plants this summer. Every corner of your garden should have a little patch where bees can feed. Buckwheat, Californian poppy, Candytuft, Convolvulus (annual), Corn chamomile, Corn marigold, Cornflower, Dill, French marigold, Golden marguerite, Nemophila, Phacelia, Poached egg plant, Pot marigold, Sunflower and Sweet alyssum are all good. Just make sure you have the plain, traditional form rather than modern fancy varieties.


PURPLE-SPROUTING BROCCOLI (broccoli rabe, or rapini, in the US) is one of the few properly fresh vegetables you can eat this time of year. See or for ideas. Though personally, we just cook them as they are, stalks and all, apart from the hardest bottom bit. 
This is how I like them best. Caramelize some onions [20]; add your just cooked broccoli to the pan, stir so they are nicely oiled/buttered. 

A colander full of rocket leaves, some potatoes, 2 small sliced onions, (cream or milk).
Put potatoes and onions in a pan with just enough boiling water to cover. Simmer until soft. Chop rocket fairly coarsely and add to soup: they don’t need as much cooking as the potato and onion. Liquidise and serve. Add cream or milk if you like.

60g fresh young nettle tops (4 big handfuls), 400g cooked white beans, 2 tbsp olive oil, 2-3 cloves chopped garlic, 750ml water, paprika powder and/or other spices, salt, pepper, extra-virgin olive oil. 
Wash nettle tops, put into a pan along with the water clinging to them, and cook very slowly until wilted - ab. 5 mins. Drain, keep the drained juice and add to soup later, chop. Heat oil, add garlic and cook very gently for 1-2 mins, taking care it doesn't colour. Add beans and water, simmer for 5 mins. Mash with potato masher, stir in the nettles. Taste, season generously, simmer. This is meant to be a thick, coarse soup. Spoon into bowls, swirl oil over the top. Serve with good bread.

3 large cooked starchy pots, 4 tblsp butter, 240g cottage cheese, 1/2 diced onion, salt, pepper, paprika powder.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Mash the potatoes with 2 tblsp of the butter. Add cottage cheese, onion, season. Stir gently, and put in a greased casserole. Dot with remaining butter, sprinkle with paprika powder. Bake uncovered for 30 mins.

2 tins of sardines, 2 potatoes, 240ml chopped spring onions, 2 tblsp flour, fresh dill, 2 tblsp grated lemon peel, 240ml breadcrumbs, 2 garlic cloves, 1 egg, seasoning (lemon slices).
Coarsely chop and boil the potatoes until tender. Drain, mash. Add the drained and chopped sardines, spring onions, dill, flour, crushed garlic cloves, lemon peel and breadcrumbs. Season, then mix in the beaten egg. Shape the mixture into 6 (7-8cm) cakes. Coat with breadcrumbs. Sauté the fish cakes in the oil from the tin (or olive oil), about 3 at a time. Turn them over until they're golden brown and crispy. You might like to serve it with lemon slices or tartare sauce.

45 g butter, small cabbage, 230 ml sour cream, 1 egg yolk, 2 tblsp lemon juice, salt, pepper (coriander).
Melt the butter slowly. Add the cabbage, stir. Cover, let simmer for 15 mins. Don't let it brown. Whisk sour cream, yolk, lemon, salt pepper; add to cabbage. Bring to simmering point: don't let boil. Serve immediately.

ROASTED SEA BASS (or whiting or grey mullet) with LEMON FENNEL OIL, serves 2.
Two 140-170g fillets of sea bass or other firm-fleshed white fish with skin4 tsp olive oil2 tsp fresh lemon juice1/4 tsp finely chopped fennel seeds.
Preheat oven to 220°C. Pat fillets dry, season. Heat 1 tsp oil until hot but not smoking: sear fillets skin side down, pressing flat to prevent curling, for 2 mins. Put in a dish in the oven and roast the fillets for 5 mins, or until just cooked through. You can also, more simply, continue frying them on top.
While the fish is roasting, whisk together remaining 3 tsp oil, lemon, seeds, salt and pepper and heat until hot but not smoking. Serve the fillets skin side up, with the sauce on top.

450g cubed lamb’s heart, 60ml extra virgin olive oil, juice of 1/2 lemon, 2 chopped garlic cloves, 1 small onion, chopped, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp kosher salt, 1/2 tsp ground allspice, ab. 6 sprigs of parsley.
Marinade the heart in all the rest, ideally for 12 hours. Grill 6 mins, turning a few times.

Next month: No more ice cream? Emulsifiers. 

[5] for the latest research about fat in meat or dairy, see
[7] the best way to ingest chromium is apparently in brewers’ yeast, as this makes it more available than straight chromium supplements:
[20] Carefully heat 2 tbsp oil or butter. Add onions, spread in a thin layer. Cook, stirring occasionally until softened and then lightly browned. If the onions start to dry out at all, lower the heat (you can add a little water to them too.) They should brown, but not dry out. 

New Scientist: Diabetes drugs may sometimes do more harm than good.

Diabetes drugs may sometimes do more harm than good
02 July 2014 by Clare Wilson
New Scientist, Magazine issue 2976

"FIRST do no harm" is the maxim that doctors try to live by. For people with type 2 diabetes, this could require a rethink of the treatment they receive.
The side effects of diabetes drugs mean that taking them could be counterproductive for people with only slightly raised blood sugar, a study has found. The researchers conclude that doctors should stop automatically recommending drugs for the two-thirds of diabetics who fall into this category. Instead, people should be able to decide for themselves if they think treatment is worth it. The downsides particularly outweigh the benefits for older people.
Type 2 diabetes often occurs in people who are overweight, as their bodies stop responding properly to insulin. Blood sugar levels can skyrocket as a result. People with the condition are more likely to have heart attacks, kidney damage and blindness.
If insulin function can't be restored by weight loss and exercise, doctors prescribe a drug called metformin. If this doesn't lower blood sugar sufficiently, insulin injections and drugs called incretins are also prescribed.

Metformin's side effects tend to be mild and temporary but insulin and incretins can cause more dangerous problems such as "hypos", when blood sugar drops too low. In severe cases, people can fall into a coma.
Despite this, doctors have increasingly prescribed insulin and incretins over the past decade, reflecting the consensus that blood sugar levels should be kept under tight control.
However, there is little evidence that such control prevents the health problems linked with diabetes. One trial showed the approach reduced heart attacks but the participants were younger than a typical person with diabetes. Three trials involving relatively older people showed no benefits. One even found the approach increased deaths.

Sandeep Vijan at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and his colleagues used data from those trials, and others, to model the net gains or losses to people's quality of life. Their model shows that a 45-year-old with slightly raised blood sugar on drug treatment would gain up to 10 months of healthy life. A 75-year-old would gain only three weeks (JAMA Internal Medicine, DOI: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.2894).
Age matters because the chance of an older person, with perhaps five years of life ahead of them, developing complications from diabetes is lower than that of a younger person with, say, 35 years. So older people get less benefit from the drugs, but all the downsides. "The person best able to decide whether [the extra weeks or months] are worth years of pills and injections is the patient," says co-author John Yudkin of University College London.

The latest study will change clinical practice, predicts Richard Lehman, a family doctor in Banbury, UK.