I am currently away and will not be posting on my blog. It will resume on the 25th September.I hope you will not desert me then.

NO LOVELY BUNCHES ANYMORE

Coconut oil, touted as a miracle ingredient which can help you lose weight, with Angelina Jolie reportedly having a spoonful at breakfast, has now been denounced as pure poison by a senior academic. Dr Karin Michels of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health said the fashionable oil is ‘one the worst foods you can eat’. She made her comments during a lecture in Germany – where she is head of the University of Freiburg’s Human Research Centre – entitled ‘Coconut Oil and other Nutritional Errors’.

Dr Michels was critical of the fat for super foods, saying we can get the nutrients we need from commonplace fruit and veg, but was particularly scathing of coconut oil. She said it was worse than lard due to its high level of saturated fats and added: ‘There isn’t one human study that has found a positive outcome from coconut oil.’

The initial enthusiasm for the product came from observational studies of Polynesian Islanders in the Pacific, who consume large amounts but do not suffer increased heart problems. In the early 2000s, studies by Columbia University showed that those who ate a diet featuring medium–chain fatty acids, a type of fat present in coconuts, burn fat quicker than people on standard diets.

It led to sales rocketing – from around one million pounds sterling in 2012, to sixteen million pounds sterling in 2016 – according to market researchers KANTER. Many saw coconut oil as a way to enjoy fat and burn it off at the same time, despite it typically having more saturated fats – at 82 per cent – than butter, which is 63 percent. Many enthusiasts said it curbed their hunger after being blended into their morning cup of coffee. Jolie was said to have started the day with little more than a scattering of cereal and a spoonful of coconut oil, while model Miranda Kerr consumed 4 tablespoons a day, using it in cooking, salads and green tea. Jennifer Anniston would spread it on toast.

But subsequent studies have warned against using the oil. The British Nutrition Foundation published a review in 2016, saying coconut oil is likely to increase the chances of heart disease by raising fat levels in the blood. A second review, last year, suggested that when it comes to lowering cardiovascular disease, it might be best to stick with polyunsaturated oil and fats such as sunflower oil.

It all goes to show that marketing can lure people to eat poisonous products, if they can persuade film stars to unwittingly promote them. It also proves that stupidity has no barriers.

THE WONDER OF GRANDCHILDREN

Having a grandchild for the first time, I have learnt a great deal about children, their awareness and their habits. Researchers say that when very young children have just begun learning how to express themselves, toddlers already care about what others think of them. It seems children under two have the same instincts as adults to make people like them, a study has found.

Psychologists presented 144 children aged 14-24 months with a robot which lit up and moved when buttons on remote controls were pressed. In one experiment, an adult said: ‘Wow!’ after using one remote control to move the robot, while saying ‘Uh-Oh” when using a second remote. When being watched by an adult, the toddlers were around twice as likely to use the remote that the grown-ups had preferred. A second test found children operated the robot 7.7 times on average in front of a woman who liked the toy, but only 5.7 times in front of one who did not.

Commenting on the report, published in the journal Developmental Psychology Studies, author Sara Botto, of Emory University in the USA, said: ‘We’ve shown that by the age of 24 months children are not only aware that people may be evaluating them, but that they will alter their behavior to seek a positive response.’

How very true. My granddaughter, who will be 24 months old in December, is unbelievably aware of what other people do, and learns so fast how to emulate their actions, I often wonder if the new generation is more endowed than we’ve ever been at that age.

DON’T MISS THIS GEM OF AUTOBIOGRAPHY…

The indomitable Basia Briggs is a woman who refuses to be sidelined by the media. Her book, Mother Anguish, tells the story of her struggle to survive against unimaginable odds. A wounded tigress who will fight to the bitter end to defy the Establishment, not only for her own sake but also for other women who experience a similar tragic fate but refuse to succumb to the vagaries of time.

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If you read her book you will no doubt raise your hand in horror and yet applaud the tenacity of a woman who underwent a most tragic period in her life and rose from the ashes to conquer a new world and achieve great success.

What is rather curious about this whole affair, and given the pain she had to undergo during the time she spent in Australia, the book has so far failed to achieve the attention one should expect from a normally sympathetic public whose absence is hard to explain on this occasion.

Her story is full of pathos, heart-melting and despite its soberness is nevertheless not lacking that element of humour which pops up from time to time to make the narrative not bereft of some very entertaining episodes.

I recommend you buy the book with an open mind and judge its merit for yourself.

RUN RABBIT, RUN RABBIT…

Exercise in moderation is vital to keeping healthy. Now we are told by researchers that moderate exercise improves mental health but overdoing it does more harm than good. A huge study of 1.2 million people found those who exercised were – on average – stressed and depressed on fewer days than those who did not. But experts also discovered a threshold beyond which the benefits began to be reversed. Those who did the most exercise – more than five times a week or more than three hours a day – actually had worse mental health than those who did nothing at all.

The scientists, led by experts at Yale University in the USA and Oxford University, found that exercising for 45 minutes, three to five times a week, was associated with the biggest benefits; doing more than this saw the benefits decline. The researchers, whose findings are published in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal, believe excessive exercising might be linked to obsessive behaviour. But they stressed that more moderate exercise was definitely beneficial. Even doing chores around the house or pottering in the garden cut the time spent depressed by 10 per cent, they found.

Dr Adam Chekroud, assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Yale, said: ‘Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and there is an urgent need to find ways to improve mental health through health campaigns. Exercise is associated with a lower mental health burden across people no matter their age, race, gender, household income and education level. Excitingly, the specifics of the regime, like the type, duration, and frequency, played an important role in the association. We are now using this to try to match people with a specific exercise regime that helps improve their mental health.’

The researchers tracked 1.2 million people in the US and asked them about 75 types of physical activity ranging from childcare, housework, gardening and fishing to cycling, going to the gym, running and skiing. Participants were also asked to estimate how many days in the past 30 they would rate their mental health as not good based on stress, depression and emotional problems.

The scientists found that team sports reduced the time spent in poor mental health by 22 per cent, cycling by 21 percent, going to the gym by 20 per cent, jogging resulted in 19 per cent and walking, 18 per cent. Dr Chekroud said: ‘ Our finding that team sports are associated with the lowest mental health problems may indicate that social activities promote resilience and reduce depression by reducing social withdrawal and isolation.

Professor Stephen Lawrie, Head of Psychiatry at the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘I suspect we all know people who seem addicted to exercise and if this starts to impact on other aspects of life like forgoing social activities because one has to be up at the crack of dawn to run several miles – it might actually be bad for people. Activity and especially social and mindful exercise is good for mental health. Every second day for 45-60 minutes might be optimum.’

I know exercise is vital to our mental health. As I do very little of it, I always make a decision to do it on a regular basis but alas I never succeed. Perhaps a time will come when my unfulfilled decisions will come to fruition.

P-P-P-Plenty of P-P-P-PENGUINS…

It is interesting to read that a super colony of around 1.5 million penguins has been discovered this year on a remote Antarctic island. In one of the biggest discoveries of its kind, the group of Adèlie penguins was found on the Danger Islands in the East Antarctic – after satellite images showed large batches of their droppings.

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Just 100 miles away in the West Antarctic, the same species was in decline due to sea ice melting, researchers said. There are more Adèlie penguins on the Danger Islands than in the rest of the Antarctic Peninsula region combined, according to a study published in Scientific Reports. The mega colony has gone undetected for decades partly because of the remoteness of the Islands themselves and partly the treacherousness of the waters that surround them. Study co-author Heather Lynch of Stoney Brook University in the US, said: ‘The surprising find has real consequences for how we manage the region.’

The world around us is full of mysteries. With the latest advances in technology we are likely to discover things we never knew existed. The next generation will no doubt marvel at the unfolding of things to come.

Good for them but bad luck for us!

THE AIR THAT WE BREATHE…

Did you know that babies in prams and buggies may be breathing in 60 per cent more traffic pollution than the parents pushing them, a study has found? This is because the babies are positioned closer to the ground, nearer to vehicles’ exhaust pipes. The pollutants – toxic ultrafine particles and nitrogen oxides – have the potential to impair brain development in young children, say the researchers.

Scientists from the University of Surrey studied different types of prams and push chairs in relation to their height and width and the airflow around them. Vehicle exhausts usually sit within one metre (3.3 feet) above the road. Infants in prams are positioned between 0.55 metres and 0.85 metres above ground level – making them more likely to inhale toxic fumes than the adults walking behind them. The evidence showed they could be exposed to up to 60 percent more of the pollutants than their parents.
Professor Prashant Kumar, Director of the Global Centre for Clean Air Research at the University, said: ‘We know that infants breathe in higher amounts of airborne particles relative to their lung size and body weight compared to adults. What we have proven here is that the height most children travel at while in a pram increases the likelihood of negative impact from air pollution when compared to an adult. When you consider how vulnerable they are because of their tissues, immune systems and brain development at this early stage, it is extremely worrying that they are being exposed to these dangerous levels of pollution.’

Ultrafine particles, chiefly produced by diesel engines, are known to enter the bloodstream via the lungs and accumulate in lymph nodes and brain tissue. They can cause asthma, allergies and respiratory diseases in children. One component of fine particles known as ‘black carbon’- the sooty residue of fossil fuel – has been shown to reduce thinking ability in young children. Nitrogen oxide has previously been linked to inflammation of the airwaves and a greater susceptibility to infection and allergy.

The study, published in the journal Environment International, reviewed evidence from previous research highlighting the pollution risk to infants. It said: ‘A number of studies have assessed the exposure of young children but only a handful has focused on in-pram babies. There’s clearly a need for further studies to develop diverse data sense for in-pram babies’ exposure. Ways of reducing the risk suggested by researchers include tighter control of vehicle emissions, barriers such as roadside hedges to shield pedestrians from pollution and technological innovations that create a clear air source around the child’s mouth and nose.

Dr Stephan Reis, from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Wallingford, said: ‘The paper makes a compelling case for the integrated assessment of both the sources of air pollutant emissions and local individual and behavioural factors contributing to exposure in order to design interventions.’

The government should intervene and pass some sort of legislation to protect our babies from being poisoned in our streets. Pollution must be contained at an acceptable level, which at present is not the case.