Is mindfulness making us ill?

Iam sitting in a circle in a grey, corporate room with 10 housing association employees – administrators, security guards, cleaners – eyes darting about nervously. We are asked to eat a sandwich in silence. To think about every taste and texture, every chewing motion and bite. Far from being relaxed, I feel excruciatingly uncomfortable and begin to wonder if my jaw is malfunctioning. I’m here to write about a new mindfulness initiative, and since I’ve never to my knowledge had any mental health issues and usually thrive under stress, I anticipate a straightforward, if awkward, experience.
Then comes the meditation. We’re told to close our eyes and think about our bodies in relation to the chair, the floor, the room: how each limb touches the arms, the back, the legs of the seat, while breathing slowly. But there’s one small catch: I can’t breathe. No matter how fast, slow, deep or shallow my breaths are, it feels as though my lungs are sealed. My instincts tell me to run, but I can’t move my arms or legs. I feel a rising panic and worry that I might pass out, my mind racing. Then we’re told to open our eyes and the feeling dissipates. I look around. No one else appears to have felt they were facing imminent death. What just happened?
For days afterwards, I feel on edge. I have a permanent tension headache and I jump at the slightest unexpected noise. The fact that something seemingly benign, positive and hugely popular had such a profound effect has taken me by surprise.

We are at the start of a journey to see horses as healers

Daisy was found wandering the streets of Chessington, in Surrey. Gwen and Phyllis were both abandoned while pregnant on nearby Send Common. Ocean is frightened of women. Ernie had bitten a man’s face and was full of anger. ''I shouldn’t have a favourite,’’ says actress Jenny Seagrove, pointing out some of the 24 horses grazing in the shelter of the surrounding Surrey Hills. ''But, ahh, Grimbo,’’ she says, gently stroking a skewbald miniature Shetland with an adorable quiff, ''you are my main man.’’
Grimbo, rescued from a dealer’s yard, is far too cool to acknowledge such fawning – even if it is by Seagrove, 57, one of Britain’s best-loved actresses, who made her name in Local Hero, but is perhaps more familiar from her long-standing role in the television series Judge John Deed. Grimbo stands peaceably, as do the other horses, treating Seagrove as an equal part of the herd at the Mane Chance Sanctuary, outside Guildford.
Seagrove set up this centre on borrowed farmland four years ago – with help from philanthropist Simrin Choudhrie – to rescue abandoned horses, but quickly realised that the animals could develop a reciprocal role as what she calls a ''healing herd’’.

Dirt is good for you.

How pleasing to have my inverted snobbery about sterile houses reinforced by yet more news that grime is good for you.
Of course it is. We’ve been told for years that children need exposure to bacteria and bugs in order for their immune systems to develop. But that still hasn’t stopped the national obsession with killing 99 per cent of all known germs, and hyperbolic phrases such as “not just clean, but hygienically clean”.
Me, I’ve always been ahead of the curve when it comes to boosting my family’s antibodies, with liberal amounts of dust and a bohemian (at least that’s how I’m selling it) attitude to hand washing. Before lunch or after a trip to the loo, it’s mandatory, of course – but when it comes to stroking cats or picnicking or playing in the garden, I’m relaxed, with the emphasis on lax.
I think of it as my inner toff: aristos camping in crumbling piles are notoriously unconcerned by dust, cobwebs and black mould round the Regency bathroom fittings. My fussy friends, brandishing wet wipes and antiseptic gel, obviously think I’m a bit disgusting. I obviously think they are a bit bourgeois. You may decide for yourself which is worse.

Blackcurrants may lower diabetes risk

Can eating blackcurrants cut the risk of diabetes in people who are overweight?
That's the thinking behind a new clinical trial that is to be carried out at the University of Aberdeen.
The researchers believe that antioxidants in the fruit affect how the body breaks down carbohydrates and sugars, reducing the amount of sugar that ends up in the bloodstream after you have eaten a meal.

If blood sugar levels peak too high, this can put pressure on the pancreas and prevent the normal release of insulin. Sixteen people will be asked to consume 200g of blackcurrants, or a 'placebo' dose of green currants that do not contain the antioxidants, with and without a carbohydrate meal - and their blood sugar levels will then be compared.

How vitamin supplements and your diet could mess with your medication

Doctors typically prescribe several drugs to patients with mental health conditions in order to treat the various symptoms. For example, a person with bipolar disorder may be prescribed one drug to treat mania and another to treat depression. But there’s limited evidence on how combinations of drugs interact, or how diet and nutrition influence their effects.  Our study on the effects of combinations of psychiatric drugs and a common dietary supplement had surprising results – results that show just how poorly understood and under-researched this area is.
We found that combining drug therapies has long-term benefits for treating depression in patients with bipolar disorder. However, taking a folic acid supplement might interfere with the drugs’ therapeutic effect.

‘Real world’ effects

Although treatment of mental health disorders with multiple drugs is the norm, there’s not much evidence about which combinations help to keep patients well in the long-term, and how these may be affected by diet and nutritional supplements. Our study addressed these problems by investigating whether a combination of commonly-used drugs really is better than using a single drug. We also examined whether the action of these drugs is influenced by a vitamin supplement.

Coffee does not affect heart rate, study suggests

Drinking coffee regularly does not cause the heart to beat more, a new study has found.
The findings go against previous studies which suggested that drinking coffee raises the heart rate, and have prompted the research team to call for clinical recommendations against caffeine to be reconsidered. 
Past research has indicated that premature atrial contractions (PACs) in the top chambers of the organ and excessive premature ventricular contractions (PVC) at the bottom are linked to a number of different forms of heart disease, and can be caused by caffeine consumption.
Current guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association recommend that caffeine, alcohol and nicotine use should be stopped entirely to prevent heart problems worsening. However, the team at the University California, San Francisco, have cited previous evidence which showed that caffeinated product including coffee, chocolate and tea could in fact have cardiovascular benefits.
To conduct the study published in the ‘Journal of the American Heart’, scientists analysed 1,388 randomly selected participants from the US’ National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Cardiovascular Health Study database of nearly 6,000 patients. Those with persistent extra heartbeats were excluded. 

Red wine and berries cut the risk of erectile dysfunction, study finds

Men who consume red wine and blueberries and take regular exercise can cut their risk of developing erectile dysfunction by over a fifth, a new study has shown.
Scientists have identified that foods rich in certain flavonoids cut the risk of men experiencing the sexual problem which affects up to half of all middle-aged and older men.  The foods with the greatest benefits include blueberries, cherries, blackberries, radishes and blackcurrant, which contain anthocyanins; as well as citrus fruits, which are packed with flavanones and flavones.
The study built on previous research which showed that exercise can reduce the risk of ED. Scientists have now found that eating a diet rich in flavonoids is as beneficial as walking briskly for up to five hours a week. By exercising and eating flavonoid-rich foods, men can cut the risk of experience ED by 21 per cent. Researchers also pinpointed that eating more fruit in general was linked to a 14 per cent reduction in the risk of developing ED.