Sunday, 30 September 2012

10 winter health risks

Some health problems, such as asthma, sore throat and cold sores, are triggered or worsened by cold weather. Here's how to help your body deal with cold weather ailments.


You can help prevent colds by washing your hands regularly. This destroys bugs that you may have picked up from touching surfaces used by other people, such as light switches and door handles. It’s also important to keep the house and any household items, such as cups, glasses and towels, clean, especially if someone in your house is ill.

Top tip: If you get a cold, use disposable tissues instead of cloth handkerchiefs to avoid constantly re-infecting your own hands.

Sore throat

Sore throats are common in winter and are almost always caused by viral infections. There’s some evidence that changes in temperature, such as going from a warm, centrally heated room to the icy outdoors, can also affect the throat.
Top tip: One quick and easy remedy for a sore throat is to gargle with warm salty water. It won’t heal the infection, but it has anti-inflammatory properties and can have a soothing effect. Dissolve one teaspoon of salt in a glass of part-cooled boiled water.


Cold air is a major trigger of asthma symptoms, such as wheezing and shortness of breath. People with asthma should be especially careful in winter.
Top tip: Stay indoors on very cold, windy days. If you do go out, wear a scarf over your nose and mouth. Be extra vigilant about taking your regular medications, and keep rescue inhalers close by and in a warm place.


Also known as the winter vomiting bug, norovirus is an extremely infectious stomach bug. It can strike all year round, but is more common in winter and in places such as hotels and schools. The illness is unpleasant but it’s usually over within a couple of days.
Top tip: When people are ill with vomiting and diarrhoea, it’s important to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Young children and the elderly are especially at risk. By drinking oral rehydration fluids (available from pharmacies), you can reduce the risks of dehydration.

Painful joints

Many people with arthritis say their joints become more painful in winter, though it’s not clear why this is so. Only joint symptoms, such as pain and stiffness, are affected by the weather. There’s no evidence that changes in the weather cause joint damage.
Top tip: Many people get a little depressed during the winter months and this can make them perceive pain more acutely. Everything feels worse, including medical conditions. Daily exercise can boost a person's mental and physical state. Swimming is ideal as it’s easy on the joints.

Cold sores

Most of us recognise that cold sores are a sign that we’re run down or under stress. While there’s no cure for cold sores, you can reduce the chances of getting one by looking after yourself through winter.
Top tip: Every day, do things that make you feel less stressed, such as having a hot bath, going for a walk in the park or watching one of your favourite films.

Heart attacks

Heart attacks are more common in winter. This may be because cold snaps increase blood pressure and put more strain on the heart. Your heart also has to work harder to maintain body heat when it's cold.
Top tip: Stay warm in your home. Keep the main rooms you use at 21C (70F) and use a hot water bottle or electric blanket to keep warm in bed. Wrap up warm when you go out and wear a hat, scarf and gloves.

Cold hands

Raynaud’s phenomenon is a common condition that makes your fingers and toes change colour and become very painful in cold weather. Fingers can go white, then blue, then red and throb and tingle. It’s a sign of poor circulation in the small blood vessels of the hands and feet. In severe cases, medication can help, but most people live with their symptoms.
Top tip: Don't smoke or drink caffeine (they can both worsen symptoms) and always wear warm gloves, socks and shoes when going out in cold weather.

Dry skin

Dry skin is a common condition and is often worse during the winter when environmental humidity is low. Moisturising is essential during winter. Contrary to popular belief, moisturising lotions and creams aren’t absorbed by the skin. Instead, they act as a sealant to stop the skin’s natural moisture from evaporating away. The best time to apply moisturiser is after a bath or shower while your skin is still moist, and again at bedtime.
Top tip: Have warm rather than hot showers. Water that is too hot makes skin feel more dry and itchy. Hot water will also make your hair look dull and dry.


Flu is a major killer of vulnerable people. People aged 65 and over and people with long-term health conditions including diabetes and kidney disease are particularly at risk. The best way to prevent getting flu is to have the flu jab. It gives good protection against flu and lasts for one year.
Top tip: Find out if you’re at risk of getting flu by asking your GP or read our article on who should have the flu jab. If you're in a high-risk group, see your GP to get the vaccination.

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Feel Good Winter Warmer: Chilli Con Carne


  • 2 large onions
  • 700 g lean stewing beef, fat removed and cut into 1-2cm cubes
  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 800 g canned chopped tomatoes
  • 2 green peppers, sliced
  • 3 green or red chillies, chopped, seeds left in if you like your chillies fiery
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tinned red kidney beans, 400g
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
To serve
  • 125 ml soured cream
  • 2 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
  • 4 tbsp cheddar cheese, grated  


Heat the olive oil in a casserole,or saucepan and fry the meat until it changes colour - about 5-7 minutes. Add the onion and garlic and stir for a minute or so before tipping in the tinned tomatoes,chopped chillies, peppers, and a good pinch of salt.

Cover the pan and simmer for about an hour, until the meat is tender and the liquid reduced to a thick sauce. If it gets too dry during cooking, pour in a little more water.

Add the cumin, kidney beans (and a little of the bean liquid,if you like)and the brown sugar. Simmer for a further 10 mins before serving with rice, a spoonful of sour cream, grated cheddar cheese and and coriander leaves as a garnish.  For added spicy kick, serve this dish with hot chilli sauce.

And there you have it, a wholesome hearty meal that will warm you through after a long day in the winter weather. Enjoy!

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Whooping cough outbreak: Pregnant women to be vaccinated

Hundreds of thousands of pregnant women across the UK are to be offered a whooping cough vaccine to protect babies from an escalating outbreak of the disease.

Very young babies are at the greatest risk of serious complications. Nine have died in the UK this year.
The injection, available from Monday, should boost a mother's defences, which are then passed onto the baby.

Health officials say there are no safety concerns about the vaccine.
There are surges in whooping cough cases every three to four years and the latest outbreak started at the end of 2011. It is already the worst for more than a decade. 

Babies under six months of age are the most vulnerable. They are too young to be protected by routine vaccination, which starts at two months of age. 

The infection can stop the baby breathing or lead to pneumonia, brain damage, weight loss and death.
Women who are between 28 and 38 weeks pregnant are to be offered a combined whooping cough, tetanus, diphtheria and polio vaccine. About 730,000 women a year could be given the vaccine.
Prof David Salisbury, the director of immunisation at the Department of Health, said: "We're boosting the mother to protect the baby. We can't protect babies until they are eight weeks, but their mothers can."
The mother's immune system should respond to the injection by producing whooping cough antibodies, which then cross the placenta into the developing child. 

This should provide enough protection until the baby has its first routine vaccine.
Women are being advised to have the vaccine even if they have been vaccinated before and that they should be vaccinated during all subsequent pregnancies.

Prof Salisbury said the safety of the vaccine was "excellent" and there were "no concerns" about using the vaccine during pregnancy, although some women would develop a fever.

"There is a clear benefit and no evidence of risk," he said.

Before routine vaccination in 1957, whooping cough outbreaks in the UK were on a huge scale. It could affect up to 150,000 people and kill 300 in a single year.
The latest figures from the Health Protection Agency reported 4,791 cases in 2012 - 1,230 in August alone. There were only 908 cases in the whole of 2008 during the last outbreak.
Scotland has reported 508 cases up to mid-June while Northern Ireland had 139 cases up to mid-July. Both figures are significantly higher than for the previous year.

Whooping cough

  • It is also known as pertussis and is caused by a species of bacteria, Bordetella pertussis
  • It mostly affects infants, who are at highest risk of complications and even death
  • The earliest signs are similar to a common cold, which then develop into a cough and can even result in pneumonia
  • Babies may turn blue while coughing due to a lack of oxygen
  • The cough tends to come in short bursts followed by desperate gasps for air (the whooping noise)
  • Adults can be infected - but the infection often goes unrecognised
The chief medical officer for England, Prof Dame Sally Davies, said: "Whooping cough is highly contagious and newborns are particularly vulnerable.

"It's vital that babies are protected from the day they are born - that's why we are offering the vaccine to all pregnant women."
The vaccine will be offered during routine antenatal appointments with a nurse, midwife or GP.
The vaccination programme is only temporary to deal with the heightened risk of whooping cough infection during this outbreak.
A similar programme is already under way for pregnant women in the US, although the evidence for its effectiveness is still unclear.
Dr Mary Ramsay, the head of immunisation at the Health Protection Agency (HPA), welcomed the measure.
"We have been very concerned about the continuing increase in whooping cough cases and related deaths.

"It's also important we continue to remind all parents to ensure their children are vaccinated against whooping cough to continue their protection through childhood.
"Parents should also be alert to the signs and symptoms - which include severe coughing fits accompanied by the characteristic 'whoop' sound in young children but as a prolonged cough in older children or adults. It is also advisable to keep their babies away from older siblings or adults who have the infection."
Other groups including the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have backed the scheme.

Analysis: What caused the outbreak?

Vaccination for whooping cough is at record levels in the UK, so what is behind the largest outbreak of the disease in recent times?
The experts do not know for certain. One thought is that the bacteria which causes the infection, Bordetella pertussis, may have changed.
Another idea favoured by the HPA is that so many years of really tight control over whooping cough means people's immune systems have not been naturally boosted by repeat infections in adulthood - leaving the population as a whole more vulnerable.
It is also an outbreak which is affecting multiple countries including the US, Norway, the Netherlands and Australia.

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Saturday, 8 September 2012

Creamy Potato Salad

Tossing potatoes with a little good vinegar while they are still warm infuses them with flavor. Capers, gherkins and a touch of anchovy give this old-fashioned salad a piquant finish, while red bell pepper and celery give it an appealing crunch.

12 servings, 1/2 cup each
Active Time:
Total Time:


  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 pounds fingerling potatoes, or other small waxy thin-skinned potatoes (about 10), scrubbed
  • 1/2 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise, or soy mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup low-fat plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar or rice vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced (1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery, (1-2 stalks)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons diced gherkin pickles
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers, rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives


  1. Hard-cook eggs (see Tip). Peel eggs and chop coarsely.
  2. Meanwhile, place potatoes in a large saucepan, cover with lightly salted water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook, covered, until just tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain; let cool for about 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk mayonnaise, yogurt, oil, anchovy paste and pepper in a small bowl until smooth.
  4. Cut potatoes into cubes and place in a large bowl. Add vinegar and salt; toss gently to coat. Add bell pepper, onion, celery, parsley, gherkins, capers, chives, chopped eggs and the mayonnaise mixture; toss to coat well. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, at least 30 minutes.

Tips & Notes

  • Make Ahead Tip: Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.
  • To Make Hard-Cooked Eggs: Place eggs in a single layer in a saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook at the barest simmer for 10 minutes. Pour off hot water and run cold water over the eggs until completely cooled. To peel, crack the shell, then roll egg between your palms to loosen shell. Peel, starting at the large end. Rinse under cold water or dip in water to remove bits of shell.


Per serving: 119 calories; 5 g fat ( 1 g sat , 2 g mono ); 40 mg cholesterol; 14 g carbohydrates; 0 g added sugars; 4 g protein; 1 g fiber; 321 mg sodium; 97 mg potassium.
Nutrition Bonus: 42 mg Vitamin C (70% dv), 20% dv Vitamin A.
Carbohydrate Servings: 1
Exchanges: 1 starch, 1 fat

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