Ultimate Foods To Reduce Your Menopause Symptoms-Best Life Insurance

he “M” word… terrorizing for some, a natural life-progression for others. And perhaps particularly on your mind if you’re a female approaching the tender age of 50. What am I referring to?

Why, Menopause, of course! Whether you’re starting to feel the first pangs of hot flashes or are simply interested in preparing yourself for a smooth transition, this article is for you.

Read on to find out more about the foods to favor and the ones to watch out for when aiming to optimize your diet for menopause.

Foods against menopause symptoms

Let’s Talk Hormones

Before we dive straight into the foods to have on hand and those to keep at an arm’s length, let’s first quickly recap what menopause entails. This will be helpful in understanding why the foods listed below are so important.

Menopause starts when a woman’s ovaries begin running out of eggs. As a reference point, this typically occurs between the ages of 45 and 55, but, since the total amount of eggs each woman is born with can vary, so can the age at which each reaches menopause.

Running out of eggs cause the ovaries to decrease their production of two important reproductive hormones; estrogen and progesterone. It’s this drop that causes most of the changes (and new challenges) associated with menopause, including hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, bone loss, sleep disturbances and / or mood changes!

Hormone therapy is one way to reduce the symptoms and, while it can be effective, it also raises risks of medical conditions such as heart attacks, stroke and breast cancer, especially if you wait for several years beyond menopause to begin it. Another way to reduce symptoms is through a healthy diet, which, although always important, is particularly so during life-stage.

Certain foods will not only help provide relief of the less than eagerly awaited symptoms described above, but can also ensure your health remains in top-shape, so you can enjoy the many years to come.

Since not all women experience the same symptoms, this article is organized in sections. Read them all or simply scroll through the list below to find yours. Each section will give you some tips on which foods to favor and which to stay away from to get the best benefits. Happy reading!

Happy at menopause

Mood Swings

As some of you may have noticed, thanks to menopause, mood swings may not only seem worse, but also more difficult to handle. What’s more, many post-menopausal women also report increased feelings of depression and anxiety.

Luckily, several foods can help you deal with such these pesky negatives!

The first set all have one nutrient in common; tryptophan. This little amino acid plays an big role in the manufacturing of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects your mood, sleep and appetite. Getting your fill will likely result in a happier disposition as well as better sleep and perhaps even a slimmer waist. Tryptophan is easily found in foods such as turkey, seafood, spinach, cottage cheese, turnips, oats, legumes and pumpkin, sunflower or sesame seeds.

The second contain omega-3 fatty acids. Well-known for their positive effects on heart health, omega-3s may also positively impact levels of serotonin. To achieve an optimal intake, favor foods such as fatty fish, flaxseed, chia seeds, canola oil and nuts.

A third nutrient that may help ward off feelings of depression is none other than vitamin D. Although no research to date has effectively identified a low vitamin D intake as a cause of depression, research does point to a relationship between low levels of vitamin D and depression.

And, given vitamin D’s many positive effects (including those you’ll find listed in the bone health section), ensuring you consume sufficient amounts is, at the very least, unlikely to hurt!

Hot flashes

Hot Flashes

Annoying at the very least and full-fledged sleep-disturbing and cumbersome at the most; hot flashes are one symptom many post-menopausal women have to deal with!

To minimize their occurrence, try staying clear of high-fat, high-sugar diets, spicy foods, excessively hot drinks or caffeine, as each of these items can act as triggers.

As for foods to favor, you might want to consider adding soy products to your diet. Why? Research currently supposes that a high intake of soy isoflavones (which can be found in all soy products) are part of the reason why Japanese women experience much less hot flashes than Westerners.

The amount of isoflavones needed for relief seems to be about 50 mg, which can be easily provided by two servings of soy foods per day. Examples of one serving include 1/2 cup of tofu, tempeh, edamame, cooked soybeans or 1 cup of soy milk.

Wrinkled skin

Bad Skin

Although crow’s feet and laugh lines are a normal part of the aging process, the declining estrogen levels associated with menopause can accelerate said process, bringing on unwanted extras such as dry and scaly skin.

This might come as no surprise, but filling up on antioxidant-rich plant foods can help minimize the toll aging takes on your skin. That’s because the more antioxidants you consume, the stronger of an army you create when it comes to fighting off cell-aging oxidative damage.

Three particularly useful antioxidants are zinc and vitamins A & C.

– Vitamin C rich foods include bell-peppers, kale, kiwis, broccoli, berries and citrus fruit .
– The best sources of zinc include seafood, meat, seeds, beans and lentils.
– Vitamin A can be found in orange-colored vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash as well as in leafy greens.

Again, you might want to give boosting your soy isoflavone intake a try. A study conducted in middle-aged women found that those who consumed 40mg of isoflavones (about the amount in 1 1/2 servings of soy foods) every day, for 12 weeks, experienced improved skin elasticity and a decline in small wrinkles.

Finally, drinking up can help maintain the moisture of your skin, offsetting dryness. What’s more, getting your 8 glasses per day can also help decrease some of the bloating that sometimes occurs with hormonal changes. If you’re not a fan of bland water, you’ll be glad to read that soups, herbal teas and frozen-fruit or mint-flavored water are just as effective!

Menopause muscles

Weight Gain

Yet another popular complaint! Although most women may feel otherwise, menopause may not be to blame per-se…

But, while there’s still much debate surrounding the exact cause of menopausal weight gain, the fact remains that many post-menopausal women experience this annoying side-effect. To help keep the extra pounds from finding residence around your midsection, make sure to give the following 3 tips a try!

  • Make sure to boost your fibre intake. You can easily achieve this by increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Fibre expands in your stomach, which will keep you feeling fuller for longer, preventing hunger pangs (or excessive over-eating). A high-fibre diet might also slightly lower estrogen levels prior to menopause, helping make the transition a little smoother! Last, but not least, soluble fibre can also help lower cholesterol, protecting both your heart and brain!
  • Get your move on! One of the main culprits when it comes to weight gain is the slowing down of your metabolism, mainly brought upon by age-associated loss of muscle mass. Since muscle burns more calories than fat, a decrease in muscle mass can result in stacking on the pounds, despite eating the same way as you have for years. You can prevent this from happening by simply adding some resistance-training 2 – 3 times per week. Plus, strong muscles will also help keep your bones strong.
  • Consider seeking out a registered dietitian near you (no plug intended)! A recent study examined the eating habits of 419 overweight and obese menopausal and postmenopausal women. Some were set up with regular meetings with registered dietitians while the others received only limited health education. After 4 years, 57% of those who met with a dietitian maintained their weight-loss compared with only 29% of controls! Favoring a nutrition check-up at this important life point can be motivating, in addition to providing you with handy tips to keep you healthy for years to come.

As an added bonus, slimming down also reduces the risk of heart disease and breast cancer, which both go up after menopause.

Strong bones

Weak Bones

If you’ve read this far, you’re definitely ready for the longest, but potentially the most important section of this article.

The drop in estrogen production you’re bound to experience during menopause can negatively affect the structure of your skeleton! And, since women’s bones are less dense than men’s to begin with, prioritizing your bone health will help prevent your bones from breaking or your spine from buckling over with age. To avoid the ensuing less-than-flattering Quasimodo look, make sure you give the following nutrients starring roles in your daily food choices.

1) Calcium, Calcium, Calcium!

Although this mineral represents only 1 – 2% of your whole body weight, more than 99% of it finds residence in your skeleton. No wonder calcium and bones have become such a well-recognized duo! And although peak bone mass is typically achieved in our twenties, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t aim for an optimal intake in your 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond.

Think of it this way: up to your thirties, the calcium you ingest helps build your bone mass and, from then on, helps slow down its decline. And since the biggest bone loss tends to occur in the first 5 years following menopause, failing to get your fill can leave you with a significantly brittler skeleton.

To make sure you get your fill, aim to consume 1000mg per day pre-menopause and 1200mg per day once you hit the big “M”. It’s best to do so by opting for these calcium-rich foods, as they will also provide you with an interesting array of other handy nutrients.

If you find yourself unable to achieve this intake through diet alone, you may want to consider opting for a supplement. But do not exceed 500mg per dose, as your body is limited in how much calcium it can absorb at once.

calcium rich foods

2) Vitamin D

Also know as the sunshine vitamin, one of vitamin D’s main roles is to help your intestines absorb the calcium you eat. Put simply, eating enough calcium won’t help if you can’t absorb said calcium! For this reason, vitamin D plays a crucial role when it comes to your bone health.

Let me put it this way: if our ancestors had to rely on foods to get their vitamin D fix, our species wouldn’t have lasted very long! That’s because not many foods contain any. Luckily, our body can produce its own through simple exposure to the sun. All it takes is 10 – 30 minutes spent in the midday sun, without sunscreen, 3 times a week on days where sunburn is possible. But keep in mind this is only an average, as the darker your skin, or the older you are, the more sun exposure you need.

N.B. Those living in northern latitudes (where exposing the arms and legs to the sun may not be so practical between the months of October and May) may want to consider a daily vitamin D supplement, providing between 600 – 1000 IU.

Protein foods

3) Protein

After decades of criticism for alleged bone-damaging effects, protein is now back on the list of bone-protecting nutrients. In addition to building and maintaining your muscles (which are super important for the overall health of your skeleton), eating enough protein can also help increase calcium absorption, stimulate bone growth and slow down bone loss.

To ensure you get enough, include a source of protein at each meal (including breakfast) as well as with each snack. Top choices include meats, dairy products, beans, eggs, nuts and seeds.

4) Vitamin K

This perhaps less-know vitamin plays, none the less, an essential role in bone health. So much so that research found that a low vitamin K intake is linked to poorer bone mineral density (an indicator of bone health) in both women and men.

You can get your daily fill by favoring vitamin K-rich foods such as leafy green veggies (think spinach, kale, and beet greens) as well as soy, canola and olive oils. And since a little fat can enhance vitamin K absorption, why not give your spinach a quick sauté in one of the oils listed above? You’ll be set to go!

5) Potassium

By helping balance out acidity-causing factors, potassium-rich foods may help reduce calcium loss from bone. It’s quite difficult to reach your potassium needs if you aren’t eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and legumes… so at the risk of sounding like a cliché of a dietitian, make sure you include some veggies at each meal!

Top potassium-rich choices include kidney and lima beans, avocados, beet greens, spinach, Swiss chard, sweet potatoes, bananas as well as tomato and orange juices.

Potassium-rich foods

6) Magnesium

Consuming enough magnesium-rich foods is linked to better bone health, whereas magnesium deficiency raises the risk of bone disease in women. That, in my book, makes a pretty strong case for getting your daily fill!

To do so, favor whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables. And, in case you hadn’t noticed, most of these foods can also be found on the potassium-rich list; talk about lighting two candles with one matchstick!

7) Vitamin C

Vitamin C is needed for synthesis of the connective tissue found in the bone matrix, which means that eating enough of it can help your bones stay strong. But before you run out to the health store to stock up on supplements, note that vitamin C is one of the easiest vitamins to include in your diet! To get enough, all you need to do is… you’ve probably guessed it; fill your plate with fruits and vegetables!

Now that you know what to eat, here’s what to stay away from:

Bone Thieves

Bone Thief # 1: Smoking

Smoking robs the bones by decreasing the absorption of calcium from the diet. Smokers also tend to experience menopause at a younger age, which means they’re unwillingly extending the total amount of years spent in the life-period during which bone loss is highest.

Too much salt

Bone Thief # 2: Salty diets.

Too strong of a love affair with the salt shaker can promote the loss of calcium in the urine, regardless of how much calcium is actually consumed in the diet. Studies even show that daily sodium intakes exceeding 2100mg per day are linked to important negative effects on bone density. To put it into context, 2100mg per day represents half of the amount of salt you’d find in 1 Big Mac, 250ml of canned soup or 2 glasses of vegetable juice.

To keep your sodium intake within recommendations, use a light hand when salting your food, and keep processed (a.k.a. salt-loaded) foods to a minimum.

Bone Thief # 3: Alcohol

When it comes to drinking, you might have heard that a moderate alcohol intake can bring on many health benefits (especially if said alcohol is red wine). The reverse of the medal is that too much alcohol not only negates said health benefits, but can also lead to poorer bone health and increased risk of fracture. The bottom line ladies; for your bone’s sake, keep it to less than 2 drinks per day!


What About Supplements?

There’s indeed a wide variety of herbal remedies on the market claiming to combat menopausal symptoms, the most often-mentioned of which are dong quai, evening primrose oil and ginseng. The unfortunate truth is that most herbal supplements haven’t been thoroughly studied, which means they might bring on negative side-effects of their own or interact with other medications you may be consuming. That’s not to say they can’t help, but your best bet remains speaking to your healthcare professional before starting to take any of these.

Source:   Bembu.com

Slow Carbs, Not Low Carbs The Truth About Low-Carb Diets-Best Weight loss Program

The low-carb frenzy hit its zenith in the early 2000s and has since ebbed and flowed in popularity. I’ve seen patients get impressive results doing very low-carb diets, but eventually many become burned out and regain the weight as the novelty of eating bacon and other formerly forbidden foods becomes monotonous.

Traditional thinking suggests carbohydrates are bad for you. I have something surprising to say that might go against everything you’ve heard: Carbs are the single most important thing you can eat for health and weight loss. In fact, I often say my plan is a high-carb diet.

But wait, you say, don’t carbs contribute to insulin resistance, heart disease, and other health concerns?

Some do, but the truth is more complicated. You see, “carbohydrates” encompasses a huge category. A hot fudge sundae and cauliflower both fall into the “carbs” category, yet they are entirely different foods.

In fact, almost all plant foods fall into the carbs category. These are what I refer to as slow carbs, which are low-glycemic and don’t spike your blood sugar or insulin. These slow carbs come loaded with nutrients, fiber, and amazing molecules called phytochemicals.

When you eat a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables teeming with phytonutrients — carotenoids, flavonoids, and polyphenols — they help improve nearly all health problems, including dementia, diabesity, and aging.

Ideally, about 75 percent of your carb intake should come from non-starchy veggies plus low-glycemic fruits. By volume, most of your plate should be carbs. Note I said volume, not calories. Many plant-based carbs actually have very few calories.

Why All Carbs Are Not Created Equally

Carbs are necessary for long-term health and brain function. But not the doughnuts, breads, bagels, and sweets we typically think of as carbs. These are highly processed foods, stripped of their nutrients and fiber. When I say carbs, I mean real, whole plant foods containing all the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients that create health.

Unfortunately, most people are not eating these plant foods. They are eating quickly absorbed carbs from sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and white flour, which are very efficiently turned into belly fat in the body.  After you eat a high-carb meal, your insulin spikes and your blood sugar plummets — leaving you very hungry. That is why you crave more carbs and sugar, and eat more.

The important difference is in how carbs affect your blood sugar. Calorie for calorie, sugar is different from other calories that come from protein, fat, or non-starchy carbs such as greens. Sugar scrambles all your normal appetite controls, so you consume more and more, driving your metabolism to convert it into lethal belly fat.

To drive home the point that not all calories — or carbs — are created equally, refer to my past blog in which I illustrate  that, while both soda and broccoli fall into the carbs category, 750 calories of soda and 750 calories of broccoli behave entirely differently once they enter your body.

Here’s a quick refresher.  Your gut quickly absorbs the fiber-free sugars in the soda. The glucose spikes your blood sugar, starting a domino effect of high insulin and a cascade of hormonal responses that kicks bad biochemistry into gear. The high insulin increases storage of belly fat, increases inflammation, raises triglycerides and lowers HDL, raises blood pressure, lowers testosterone in men, and contributes to infertility in women.

High-fiber, low-sugar carbs, such as broccoli, are slowly digested and don’t lead to blood sugar and insulin spikes. These slow carbs reduce cancer risk and increase your body’s ability to detoxify.

Therein lies the key difference. Slow carbs like broccoli heal rather than harm.

Choosing the Right Carbs

You may not realize this, but there are no essential carbs. There are essential fats(omega-3s) and essential proteins (amino acids), but if you never had any carbs again, you would survive.

That being said, good-quality carbs that come from plant foods provide unique benefits, including high levels of vitamins and minerals, fiber, and special plant compounds with healing properties called phytonutrients or phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are medicinal molecules such as curcumin in turmeric, glucosinolates in broccoli, anthocyanidins in berries and black rice, and so on.

Many of these foods are high in fiber, which helps buffer out their sugar content. That is one reason why eating a cup of blueberries has a dramatically different impact than put-ting four teaspoons of sugar in your coffee. Both have about 16 grams of sugar, but the nutrients, phytonutrients, and fiber in blueberries help buffer out that load, whereas the sugar-filled coffee simply raises your insulin levels and plummets your blood sugar, leaving you running for a muffin or other quick sugar fixes.

Besides stabilizing blood sugar by slowing the absorption of carbs, fiber feeds the friendly flora in your gut and scrubs your intestines, thus supporting a healthy digestive tract. Try to gradually increase your fiber intake to 30 to 50 grams a day. That becomes easy when you focus on viscous fiber from legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, vegetables, and low-glycemic-load fruits.

When you focus on these low-glycemic-load plant foods, your weight normalizes. You feel better without the sugar crashes. You reduce your risk for numerous diseases.

To simplify things and help you make optimal choices when it comes to carbs, I have divided them into four categories — green, yellow, red, and forbidden.

Green Carbs: Eat Freely

Slow-burning, low-glycemic vegetables should be the basis of your diet. Fill your plate with broccoli, asparagus, spinach, chard, kale, cabbage, bok choy, and more. These are truly an unlimited food!

Seaweed is another smart choice. Some weeds are good for you, and the weeds of the sea are among my favorite. If you’ve never tried them, be adventurous. Kombu, nori, hijiki, and wakame are all extraordinarily high in minerals, protein, and healing compounds.

Yellow Carbs: Eat in Moderation

    1. Whole grains. Brown, black, and red rice; quinoa; amaranth; buckwheat; and teff are delicious gluten-free grains. Black rice has as many anthocyanidins as blueberriesand a low-glycemic load. Called forbidden rice, it was once eaten only by Chinese emperors.
  • Fiber-rich, phytonutrient-rich legumes are underutilized in our culture. They slow the release of sugars into the bloodstream and help prevent the excess insulin release that leads to insulin resistance. Try red, French or regular lentils; chickpeas; green and yellow split peas; soybeans (edamame is a great snack); pinto, adzuki, black, navy, and other beans.
  • Dark berries. Blueberries, cherries, blackberries, and raspberries are filled with phytonutrients. The richer the color, the more “medicine” you get. Eat as much as one-half cup a day. Organic frozen berries can be used in your protein shakes.
  1. Enjoy up to two pieces of the following fruits each day:

Stone fruit. Plums, peaches, nectarines, and their variants are known as “stone fruit.” They are healthy and full of fiber and healing chemicals.

Red Carbs: Eat Limited Amounts

You should limit your intake of the following:

  1. Starchy, high-glycemic cooked vegetables. These include winter squashes, peas, potatoes, corn, and root vegetables such as beets. Starchy vegetables raise blood sugar more quickly, so they should be consumed in smaller quantities (up to one-half cup a day) and ideally in the context of other foods that reduce the overall glycemic load of the meal.
  2. High-sugar fruits. Melons, grapes, and pineapple contain more sugar than the fruits listed above, so they should be limited to a half-cup treat once a week, and avoided altogether if you are on a low/no sugar protocol.

Forbidden Carbs: Avoid Processed Carbs Completely.

    1. Gluten-containing whole grains. Stay away from wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt, kamut, and triticale.
  • Processed foods (including “low carb” foods). Avoid highly processed, factory-manufactured Frankenfoods. Many of these processed foods will have health claims such as “low carb,” “no sugar added,” or “high fiber.” Always stick with real, whole, unprocessed foods. Remember, if it has a health claim on the label, it is probably bad for you.
  1. Dried fruit. They have a high-glycemic load.

Can a Low-Carb Diet Benefit You?

While I think nearly everyone does well incorporating nutrient-dense slow carbs, there are many cases in which a very low-carb diet can be beneficial. For people with type 2 diabetes, high blood sugar, and/ or obesity, you may need to restrict or cut out even starchy veggies and fruit for a period of time before re-introducing them back into your diet.

The trick involves gradually introducing slow carbs. As insulin sensitivity improves, you can increase your consumption of slow carbs like lentils, yams, fruit, and whole grains from time to time.

Once you’ve balanced your insulin levels and dealt with any deeper issues, you can move on to a slow-carb diet (about 30 grams per meal and 15 grams per snack).

No matter what, you want to keep your glycemic load low. Always avoid refined sugars, refined carbs, and processed foods. If you do decide to eat grains, keep them to a mini-mum. Any grains can increase your blood sugar. Consider sticking with quinoa or black rice.  And minimize starchy, high-glycemic cooked vegetables, such as potatoes, corn, and root vegetables, such as rutabagas, parsnips, and turnips.

Another trick is to always eat a carb with some protein, fiber, or anti-inflammatory fat to help buffer the carbs sugar load.

New HIV cases almost triple for first quarter 2016

Participants at the Ending Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV workshop spent the day ensuring they are practising the same techniques. (Photo courtesy the Health Ministry)

Participants at the Ending Mother-to-Child Transmission of HIV workshop spent the day ensuring they are practising the same techniques. (Photo courtesy the Health Ministry)

New HIV cases have almost tripled in Antigua & Barbuda for the first quarter of 2016, with 21 new patients testing positive for the virus, over  eight for the same period last year.

The statistics collected from the Mount St John’s Medical Centre and submitted to the AIDS Secretariat indicate the cases were confirmed between January 1 and March 3.

AIDS Programme Manager Delcora Williams said the statistics suggest the messages of abstinence, protection and monogamy is not being heeded.

“It is still alarming for us, and that means that somehow or the other they are not (adhering) to the messages that have been going out in how to prevent themselves from testing positive with HIV and AIDS,” Williams said in an interview.

However, she said, the secretariat only received the statistics yesterday, and she has not had an opportunity to properly assess the findings.

Speaking from yesterday’s meeting with mid-wives to look at ways of ensuring all stakeholders are on the same path to eliminating the mother to transmission of HIV, Williams said the intention is to continue targeting those who are at risk for contracting the virus.

Williams added that HIV prevention messages and access to HIV testing, counselling and treatment is available to everyone.

Asked if the AIDS Secretariat feels defeated in its attempts to decrease the number of new infections, Williams said no.

“The numbers could show an increase in the number of persons accessing an HIV test, which is a good thing, because now they can actually access care and treatment to live a healthy and reproductive life,” she told OBSERVER.

Of the new infections, there are three pregnant women infected with the virus.

(More in the Daily Observer)

Is a hole in the head the answer to traumatic brain injury?

Make room for the brain

I WAS prepared for the blood but the most shocking thing about watching brain surgery was seeing the surgical drapes being stapled to the patient’s face. But surgeon Peter Hutchinson dismisses my concern that the tiny holes might bother the patient when she wakes up: “That’s nothing compared with the massive hole we’re about to make in her head.”

I am at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, UK, to learn about craniectomy, a procedure that involves removing a large part of someone’s skull, to relieve the pressure inside. There are no official tallies but it’s thought that several hundred surgeries take place in the UK every year on people with head injuries or who have had a stroke. Once the brain is given room to swell, the pressure drops and the scalp is sewn back into place. The skull fragment can be stored in a freezer or kept sterile inside the patient’s abdomen for weeks or months before it is reattached.

The operation I’m witnessing is part of a randomised trial to compare the effectiveness of craniectomy with that of drugs alone to bring the pressure down. It will involve 400 people with head injuries, half of whom will get the surgery.

This is needed as craniectomy has a long and chequered history. Human remains suggest it was done with stone tools in Peru a thousand years ago, a practise known as trepanning, perhaps for similar reasons as today. As a modern surgical procedure, though, it has fallen in and out of favour over the last few decades. Whether you would be sent for surgery today depends on how safe your surgeon thinks it is.

There are concerns that while it may save people’s lives, it might make it more likely that someone will end up in avegetative state. The number of people in this state is rising in most Western countries, as more people survive serious injuries thanks to medical advances. But some are concerned that craniectomy is contributing.

The problem with the procedure is that such a brutal assault could be doing more harm than good. One risk is infection, caused by bacteria on the patient’s skin entering the wound. Hence the need to anchor the drapes so firmly in place to ensure the skin stays covered up.

Another risk is nicking a major blood vessel. I see how this fear affects the surgical team when I observe a second operation. The patient needs a circle of skull removed that overlies a major artery. The team members joke about how, if things go wrong, they will need to change their socks – because of the ensuing torrent of blood. The banter stops as they start to ease the skull away from the brain, gently severing recalcitrant tissue. With the skull removed, they step back to look at the blood vessel almost reverently, then delicately cover it with gauze.

The man’s brain throbs before our eyes with each beat of his heart. Hurt it, and he could awake unable to speak or move – or he might not wake at all.

Hutchinson has spent years planning this trial and convincing colleagues at other hospitals to take part. But he insists he doesn’t care what the outcome is, merely that we finally learn if we should use this controversial procedure. “I’m not passionate about the operation, I’m passionate about the trial,” he says. “We need answers.”

Source:   Newscientist.com

Ethnicity Impacts Lupus Manifestations and Underlying Immune Changes, According to 36-Year Study

Various ethnic groups differ in what specific symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) they display — a difference that might be linked to the presence of different immune factors, according to a new study. Understanding how ethnicity might influence these differences can pave the way for treatments that are better suited to the individual patient, improving both efficacy of treatment as well as safety concerns.


Lupus can present a multitude of symptoms, tied to an array of various immunological abnormalities. These differences are influenced by both genetic and environmental factors, including sociodemographic aspects.

A study of 624 lupus patients treated at University College London Hospitalsover a 36-year period, from January 1978 to December 2013, was performed by researchers from the Hospital Pedro Hispano in Portugal, assessing demographic, clinical, and serological data in an attempt to detect potential links between these factors.

The group was composed mainly of women (91.5 percent), who had been diagnosed when they were, on average, 29 years old, plus or minus 6.5 years. The small group of men had a similar age at diagnosis, 29.4, but with a larger spread of 15 years.

The patients were also predominantly Europeans, making up 59 percent. Other ethnic groups represented were Afro-Caribbean (16 percent); East Asian (12 percent); South Asian (9 percent); and 3 percent had a mixed background.

Titled “A study of the influence of ethnicity on serology and clinical features in lupus,” the study demonstrated that patients from East Asia developed the disease at a younger age than other patients.

Other ethnicity differences also emerged, described in the journal Lupus. Afro-Caribbean patients did not experience rash and photosensitivity as often as other groups, and all non-Europeans had higher rates of spot baldness or alopecia, and kidney disease.

South Asian patients, on the other hand, more often had musculoskeletal and neurological disease, serositis — which is an inflammation of the linings of internal organs — Sicca syndrome, and blood involvement.

When investigating types of antibodies present, the research team observed that Afro-Caribbean patients had the highest rates of anti-Smith, anti-RNP, anti-Ro and anti-La antibodies. Anti-IgG anticardiolipin antibodies were mainly present in the non-East Asian groups, and hypocomplementemia — a deficiency of the immune complement system — was frequent in East Asians.

Comparing symptoms with serological data, researchers found that rash, alopecia, mouth ulcers, serositis, neurological, joint, and kidney involvement were linked with the presence of anti-Smith and anti-RNP antibodies, but only among Afro-Caribbeans, who also showed agreement between symptoms involving the joints with the presence of anti-Ro and anti-La antibodies.


Source:   Lupusnewstoday.com

Bipolar Disorder May Have Genetic Links to Autism, Schizophrenia

Bipolar Disorder May Have Genetic Links to Autism, Schizophrenia

Bipolar Disorder May Have Genetic Links to Autism, Schizophrenia

Bipolar Disorder May Have Genetic Links to Autism, Schizophrenia

In a new study, scientists have discovered an overlap between rare genetic variations linked to bipolar disorder (BD) and those implicated in autism and schizophrenia.

The study, which adds to the growing body of evidence that many psychiatric diseases share genetic roots, was conducted by researchers at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. The findings are the first to show a genetic overlap specifically between bipolar disorder and autism.

Bipolar disorder is a debilitating mental illness that affects between one and three percent of the population. Although many bipolar patients are helped by drug treatments, such as lithium, about one-third of people affected by BD do not respond well to current therapies.

And while it’s well-known that bipolar disorder is highly heritable, identifying specific genetic variants that contribute to the illness has proven difficult.

Within the last decade, advances in human genome studies have helped scientists uncover many common variations, but none of these variations alone have a large effect. Even more recently, the premier of rapid and relatively cheap next-generation gene sequencing technology has provided an opportunity to find rare variations that might individually have a large effect.

“Common variations are thought to each individually have only a tiny impact — for example, increasing a person’s likelihood of getting a disease by 10 to 20 percent,” says James Potash, M.D., University of Iowa professor and DEO of psychiatry, and senior author of the new study.

“The hope with rare variations is that they individually have a much bigger impact, like doubling or quadrupling risk for disease.”

The researchers used a case-control approach with family-based exome sequencing to maximize their chances of identifying rare variants that contribute to BD.

The case-control approach is fairly simple and works in the following way: If a genetic variant is found more often in the group of individuals who have the disease compared to a control group of people without the condition, then the gene variation might be associated with increasing susceptibility to the disease. Having a huge amount of data is key to the success of this approach.

Family exome sequencing is a little more complicated. When scientists compare the exome sequences of family members — both those affected and unaffected by BD — they are able to distinguish variants that “travel with” or segregate with the disease. This approach has long been used to identify gene variants or mutations that are passed from parents to children that cause disease.

The researchers discovered 84 rare variants (in 82 genes) that segregated with BD and that were also predicted to be damaging to the proteins encoded by those genes. Then they tested the likelihood that these rare variations might be involved in causing BD by looking for them in three large case-control datasets that included genome sequences from a total of 3,541 individuals with BD and 4,774 control patients.

While the approach was not powerful enough to identify any of the individual rare variants as definitively associated with BD, 19 genes did stand out as being over-represented in BD cases compared to controls.

“The results were not strong enough for us to say ‘we have pinpointed the genetic culprits.’ But it was strong enough for us to remain interested in these genes as potential contributors to bipolar disorder,” said Potash, who also is the Paul W. Penningroth Professor and Chair of Psychiatry and a member of the Pappajohn Biomedical Institute at the niversity of Iowa.

However, when the researchers looked at the 19 genes as a group, they realized that several were also members of groups of genes that had been implicated in autism and schizophrenia.

“It turned out that the schizophrenia and the autism genes were all more represented among our 82 genes than you would expect by chance,” Potash said. “And when we looked at our whittled down group of 19 genes, the autism genes continued to be unexpectedly prominent among them.

“With studies like this we are finally, after decades of effort, making real progress in nailing down groups of genes and variations in them that play a role in causing bipolar disorder,” Potash said.

“The mechanistic insights we gain from identifying associated genes we hope will point us in the direction of developing new treatments to make a difference for the many people affected by this illness.”

The findings are published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

Source: University of Iowa Healthcare

One Man’s Desperate Quest to Cure His Son’s Epilepsy—With Weed


This is Sam. He’s my son. His epilepsy caused him to have up to 100 seizures a day. After seven years we were out of options. Our last hope: an untested, unproven treatment. The only problem? It was illegal.

HE HOSPITAL PHARMACIST slid three bottles of pills across the counter, gave my wife a form to sign, and reminded her that this was not the corner drugstore. The pharmacy knew how many pills had been dispensed, he said; it would know how many had been consumed; and it would expect her to return the unused pills before she left the country. The pharmacist made it clear that he was not only in touch with our doctor but with the company supplying the medication. They would know if she broke the rules.

Evelyn said she understood and slipped the brown glass bottles into her purse. She and our 11-year-old son, Sam, were jet-lagged. They’d flown from San Francisco to London the previous day, December 19, 2012. Now, 30 hours later, it was just after 7 pm. They’d been at the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children since midmorning. Sam had been through a brain-wave scan, a blood test, and a doctor examination. Some gel left in his hair from the brain scan was making him grumpy.

Evelyn was terrified. They’d come 5,350 miles to get these pills, medicine we hoped might finally quiet Sam’s unremitting seizures. He was to take a 50-milligram pill once a day for two days, increasing the dose to maybe three pills twice a day. Evelyn was to keep a log of his symptoms during their two-week stay. They would need to revisit the hospital two more times before they returned to San Francisco on January 3, 2013. That meant two more rounds of brain scans, blood tests, and doctors’ appointments.
Sam Vogelstein has had epilepsy since he was 4 and a half. He turned 14 in May. PHOTO BY: ELINOR CARUCCI
We were confident the medicine wouldn’t kill Sam or hurt him irreversibly, but the prospect still made us nervous. The pills contained a pharmaceutical derivative of cannabis. People have been smoking cannabis medicinally for thousands of years. Deaths are rare. But Sam would get a specific compound made in a lab. The compound, cannabidiol, known as CBD, is not an intoxicant. (Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the stuff in pot that makes you high.) Nevertheless, US drug laws made it nearly impossible to get CBD at this purity and concentration in the States.

It had taken four months of phone calls, emails, and meetings with doctors and pharmaceutical company executives on two continents to get permission to try this drug. Sam wasn’t joining an ongoing clinical trial. The company made the pills just for him. It believed CBD was safe based on animal studies. It also said it knew of about 100 adults who had tried pure CBD like this over the past 35 years. As a percentage of body weight, Sam’s dose would approach twice what anyone else on record had tried for epilepsy. Would it make him vomit or become dizzy, or give him a rash or cause some other unpleasant event? We didn’t know. We’d volunteered our son to be a lab rat.

Then there was a bigger question: Would the medicine work? No one knew. The reason Evelyn, Sam, and others in my family—including Sam’s twin sister, Beatrice, and Evelyn’s sister, Devorah—traveled to London during Sam’s winter vacation was that two dozen other treatments we’d tried had all failed. (I stayed behind in San Francisco, scrambling to meet an end-of-year book deadline.)

The one thing we were certain about: This was not going to be a bargain. We’d already spent tens of thousands of dollars on consultants to help Sam’s doctors set up the visit, and we were still at the starting line. The best-case scenario was that the medicine would work and eventually we’d be allowed to import it into the US. We secretly hoped that this would encourage the company to make the drug easily and cheaply available to others. We also knew this was quixotic. Our previous experience with medications suggested the whole venture would end in failure. This much we knew: Importing an experimental cannabis-based drug into the US would involve more than giving the company my address and FedEx account number.
F YOU’RE THE parent of a healthy kid, it’s hard to imagine yourself doing what we did. Who spends tens of thousands of dollars on anything that’s not a house, a car, or college tuition? Who lets their child be the first or even one of the first to try any medication? But Sam was not a healthy kid. He has had epilepsy since he was 4 and a half. We’d tried every possible drug—nearly two dozen medications—plus autoimmune therapy using intravenous immunoglobulin and a high-fat medical diet. (I wrote about our two-year diet experiment in The New York Times Magazine.) Little worked, and the treatments that showed some results didn’t work for very long or had worrisome side effects.

Sam doesn’t have grand mal seizures, the type most people imagine when they think of epilepsy: collapsing and twitching on the ground. Instead, he partially loses consciousness for five-to-20-second bursts. It’s a hard-to-treat variant of so-called absence epilepsy. The seizures themselves are more benign than grand mal, and they don’t leave him exhausted. But they are also much more frequent. When Sam’s seizures are uncontrolled he can have between 10 and 20 episodes an hour. That’s one every three to six minutes and sometimes more than 100 a day.

When Sam’s seizures are uncontrolled he can have one every three to six minutes and sometimes more than 100 a day.
To me, watching Sam have a seizure looks like a movie that’s been paused and restarted. He stops and stares vacantly. His jaw slackens. And his head and torso lean forward slightly, bobbing rhythmically. Then it’s over, and he resumes life as if nothing happened. If he stopped walking, he’ll start again. If he was packing his backpack for school, he’ll continue. Though Sam says that he is sometimes aware when he has a seizure, typically his only clue is that when he comes to, everything around him has shifted slightly.

When they are frequent—which has been often—it’s hard for Sam to have a conversation, let alone learn anything in school. Sports? Not possible. As a little kid, Sam couldn’t even cry without being interrupted: He’d skin a knee, cry for 15 seconds, have a 15-second seizure, and then continue crying. Once, after watching a movie with me, he complained about the DVD being scratched. It wasn’t. It just seemed that way because he’d had so many seizures.

And while Sam got little help from the many antiepileptic medications that we tried, he endured plenty of side effects. One drug gave him hand tremors. Another made him violent. A third gave him hives. A fourth made him such a zombie that he drooled, while a fifth made him see bugs crawling out of holes in his skin. Twice his seizures were bad enough that we had to hospitalize him. He’d seen six neurologists at four hospitals in three states. I’ve seen him seize tens of thousands of times. You’d think I’d be used to it, but I find each one haunting—as if some outside force has taken over his body, leaving me, the person who is supposed to protect him, powerless.

By 2012, when Sam was 11, the only thing that was keeping his seizures controlled enough for him to attend school was massive doses of corticosteroids. If you or anyone close to you has had cancer, bad asthma, or any kind of major inflammation, you know about these drugs, which are synthetic versions of the body’s own anti-inflammatory compounds. Taken for a week or two, they can be lifesavers. But taken for extended periods, they wreak havoc on the body.

By the time he reached London, Sam had been on a big dose of the corticosteroid prednisone off and on for a year. It made him gain 30 pounds. It made his face look like it had been pumped full of air—a side effect known as “moon face.” And it weakened his immune system. He was starting to get head and chest colds every month. Were he to stay on these drugs at these doses longer-term, he would face stunted growth, diabetes, cataracts, and high blood pressure—all before he was old enough to vote.

So the trip to the UK felt like a last resort: If these pills got his seizures under control, he’d have as good a chance as any healthy kid to grow up to be a happy, successful adult. If they didn’t, well, we were out of options. He might grow out of his seizures, but there were no other medications or treatments that our doctors knew to try. It seemed hard to imagine him ever living on his own.

Sam’s seizures are brief, lasting 20 seconds or so. But at times, he has had as many as 100 a day. ELINOR

Source:   Wired.com

Rheumatoid arthritis in the hand treatments

Treatments for rheumatoid arthritis in the hands range from nonsurgical treatments such as anti-inflammatory medicines and lifestyle changes to a variety of surgical procedures designed to reduce pain and restore functionality to the affected areas in cases of severe pain and deformity.

Rheumatoid arthritis in the hands is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the joints. Autoimmune diseases occur when your body is attacked by its own immune system. Inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis can become so severe that the joints of your fingers are deformed, making it difficult to move them. Additionally, lumps known as rheumatoid nodules may form over the joints of your hands and wrist.


Nonsurgical treatment

Nonsurgical treatments are initially recommended for less severe cases of rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis actually is more often treated with medicine, exercise and lifestyle changes than with surgical procedures. These treatments can help relieve pain and swelling, slow down or prevent joint damage and increase your ability to function. Nonsurgical treatments may include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medicine – Medicines such as ibuprofen and naproxen that reduce swelling can be given to control symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Pain relievers – Aspirin, codeine and hydrocodone are some examples of pain-relieving medicines.
  • Steroids – Corticosteroids control flare-ups and help to manage the disease.
  • Lifestyle changes such as:
    • Diet – Special diets along with vitamin supplements can be prescribed to help with symptoms.
    • Exercise
  • Physical therapy


According to the American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH), surgical interventions should be timed appropriately to maximize function and minimize the deformity caused by rheumatoid arthritis. Sometimes preventive surgery may be recommended, such as:

  • Removal of nodules
  • Removal of inflamed tissue (synovectomy) to decrease pressure on the joints and tendons
  • Removal of bone spurs that may rub on tendons or ligaments
  • Tendon transfers or grafts to repair ruptured tendons

In the most severe cases of rheumatoid arthritis, or when the patient doesn’t respond to nonsurgical treatment, these surgical procedures may be recommended:

  • Joint replacement – Also known as an arthroplasty, a joint replacement relieves pain and restores motion by realignment or total reconstruction of the affected joint. In some cases all or part of the joint is replaced by metal or plastic parts. This particular surgical treatment for rheumatoid arthritis in the hands will not cure the disease, but it can provide pain relief and restore functionality in the affected areas.
  • Joint fusions – Also known as arthrodesis, this surgery joins selected bones in the hand or wrist to relieve severe pain and nerve problems resulting from rheumatoid arthritis of the hands.

Recovery time can vary from two weeks to several months, depending on the type of surgery and the severity of the disease.

Source:   Northwell.edu

My battle with Parkinson’s: As he picks up a special National Television Award, Billy Connolly talks candidly about how he’s tackling the cruel effects of the disease

Billy Connolly loves nothing more than being funny. As a wee boy he’d sit in puddles to make people laugh. Being a comedian is, he says, his purpose. ‘Not a big golden shiny purpose, but if you’re lucky enough to find out what you do well – what you think you’re here for – do it.’

Besides, it allows him to get away with stuff. ‘A luxury you get as a comedian is if you’re walking along the street and there are guys down a manhole digging in the sewer, you can say, “Come on, put your backs into it. No wonder the country’s in the state it’s in.” They’ll say, “Oh b****r off Connolly.” If you were a normal guy saying, “Put your back into it…”‘

The sentence ends in laughter. Then he sobers, touches the left hand that’s resting on his thigh. Billy doesn’t walk down the street the way he used to. ‘My left doesn’t behave like my right any more,’ he says. ‘If I walk along the street I find I’m holding on to the bottom of my jacket instead of swinging my arm. This one swings.’ He holds up his right hand. ‘And that one stays there.’ He nods at his left.

Billy Connolly loves nothing more than being funny and doesn't intend to stop making people laugh

Billy Connolly loves nothing more than being funny and doesn’t intend to stop making people laugh

Two-and-a-half years ago Billy was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive degeneration of the nervous system. On the same day he was told he had prostate cancer shortly after learning he needed hearing aids. It was, as he says, ‘a f***ing grey week’. ‘Cancer is such a creepy word, isn’t it? I remember I was on the phone. I kind of knew before the doctor said it just by the tone of his voice. He said, “I’m afraid you’ve tested positively for cancer.” I said, “Well, nobody’s ever said that to me before.” Pamela [Stephenson, his wife] moved behind me. I think she thought I was going to fall.’

After that phone call, Billy sat on the sofa and blew a raspberry. When you’re the irrepressible Big Yin, there can be hilarity in despair too. But when he was told he had Parkinson’s, there were only tears.

‘That’s one of the symptoms,’ he says. ‘You get very emotional. It was very scary at first. It isn’t any more. Looking from the outside it’s worse, in so much as it’s easier to deal with it actually happening to you rather than the thought of it. When I met people who knew me they knew about it, so it was always at the forefront of their mind. The spectre at the feast.’

Pamela and Billy met on the set of Not The Nine O’Clock News in 1979 and married ten years later. She’s now an eminent psychotherapist and bestselling author. She came third on Strictly Come Dancing in 2010 and wrote and produced her own Brazilian dance show in 2014, which toured South Africa and Australia. How on earth does she find the time to support him?

‘There’s no supporting going on. You stand on your own two feet in our house,’ he laughs.

‘She’s been all over the place working. Although she’s very supportive in so much as she’s become my mother, “Now look here. This is how you get your medicine. Pick it up on Friday, don’t leave it to Monday.” I just wander off. I like to be alone. People mistake it for loneliness but it’s not. I have friends I see from time to time.’

'It's a cruel thing, Parkinson's. There were things I liked to do, like smoking cigars. I can't do that any more,' Billy reveals as he talks candidly about his condition

‘It’s a cruel thing, Parkinson’s. There were things I liked to do, like smoking cigars. I can’t do that any more,’ Billy reveals as he talks candidly about his condition

One of whom, ‘a great pal’, was the actor and comedian Robin Williams. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s shortly after Billy and ended up taking his life. ‘We used to compare notes, me and Robin,’ he says. ‘His voice was going – it’s one of the things that happens. Can you hear mine? It gets a little thin. Some days it’s worse than others but there are exercises you do to make it OK. So I was showing him on the phone how to do them. We were doing scales together.

‘I miss him terribly. He called me before he died. It was really pleasant but it was odd. He was saying, “Do you believe me that I love you?” I said, “Of course I believe you, everybody loves me,”‘ he laughs. ‘He said, “But do you believe me?” I said, “Yes, of course I do. I love you back.”‘ Billy shakes his head.

‘It’s a cruel thing, Parkinson’s. There were things I liked to do, like smoking cigars. I can’t do that any more because it makes me drunk. Smoking a cigar makes me off-balance and nauseous. I can’t play the banjo any more because of my left hand. I keep finding other things I can’t do. I was learning the tango and it’s put the kibosh on that.’

My left doesn’t behave like my right any more

For a moment I glimpse the fury he feels at times towards this cruel disease. Billy’s a loner, a free spirit who likes the idea of slinging his banjo over his shoulder and disappearing into the sunset. Observing. Laughing at the absurdities of life.

The realities of Parkinson’s can hamper all that. ‘It comes and goes,’ he says. ‘If I put strain on my left side it can affect it for about four or five hours. I was on a tablet – I can’t remember the name of it – and I went to the specialist and she took me off it. She said the side effects were stronger than the effects of the disease. Sleepiness. Drowsiness.

‘She put me on another one and it didn’t suit me at all. It made me sleepy as well so I came off that. I’ve been going to the gym trying to battle against it. I’ve got this guy in the gym called Butch.’ He laughs. The laughter is contagious, ridiculously so. Is he butch? ‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘He’s like a cannonball. He tortures me, trying to make my left as strong as my right. At first it makes me shaky. I don’t think it’s working… But there you go.’ He pulls himself up.

‘The funniest thing was how I discovered the Parkinson’s. I was doing the Conan O’Brien chat show in LA and they put me up in a hotel. I was walking through the lobby and there was a crowd of youngsters. I’d seen them every day and I knew they knew me. I could see them looking over. They were Australian and this guy said, “Mr Connolly, I don’t want to take up your time but I’m a doctor. I specialise in Parkinson’s disease. I’ve been looking at the way you walk and it seems to me you have the gait of someone with early onset Parkinson’s. See a doctor.”

‘The first thing I thought was, “How rude! How dare you!” I was having dinner with my son that night [Billy has five children, two, Jamie and Cara, from his first marriage to Iris Pressagh, and three, Scarlett, Amy and Daisy, from his second to Pamela] and he agreed it was rude.

‘But I went to a doctor who put me onto a specialist and he said, “Yeah.” That was the week from hell. Parkinson’s and prostate cancer. Actually, it got quite funny. I was saying, “What’s going to come next?” to Pamela. I’d be pretending to limp, saying, “Now my knee’s gone.”‘

Pamela and Billy met on the set of Not The Nine O'Clock News in 1979 and married ten years later, pictured with their daughter Daisy in 1984

Pamela and Billy met on the set of Not The Nine O’Clock News in 1979 and married ten years later, pictured with their daughter Daisy in 1984

The couple pictured in 2014, Billy said his wife has been supportive 'in so much as she's become my mother' telling him to take his medicine

The couple pictured in 2014, Billy said his wife has been supportive ‘in so much as she’s become my mother’ telling him to take his medicine

Billy had his prostate removed in September 2013 and has since been given the all-clear. ‘I remember going to see the doctor before the operation and he said, “Well, first of all you’re not going to die.” I thought to myself, “Of course I’m not going to die.” It never entered my mind. I’ve always been kind of positive. I shove the cancer behind me. You can’t wear it like a medallion. I think about it because I talk about it on stage but when I’m not up there I tend not to. But the Parkinson’s – I think about it every morning. It’s forever, isn’t it?’

We’re here in his manager’s New York office a few blocks from Billy’s home – he moved to the city in 2007 – because he’s to be honoured with a Special Recognition Award at the 21st National Television Awards, being screened live from The O2 London later this month on ITV. The award will be presented by Dustin Hoffman, who’s flying in especially. Previous recipients have included Sir David Attenborough and Sir Bruce Forsyth.

‘I think it’s great,’ he says. ‘But I’m not too sure what it is.’ I tell him I understand it’s to celebrate his 50 brilliant years in comedy, film, TV and music. ‘That’s nice,’ he says and seems genuinely touched. ‘But, Jesus, 50 years is it? When I was a wee boy I thought you died when you reached 50.’ Again he collapses in laughter.

Forgiveness is the answer to everything, it’s a miracle

If, as some say, the sort of person you are eventually shows on your face, Billy is a thoroughly good man. There’s not so much as a frown-line – and no Botox either – only his flowing white lion’s mane of hair belies his 73 years. There’s something extraordinarily soul-stirring about the Billy Connolly sitting in front of me today. As his dear friend Eric Idle wrote to him, ‘You used to be a comedy god. Now you look like God.’

As the years have passed, this once-frenetic performer whose career went ‘whoosh’ (his word) after telling a bawdy joke on BBC’s Parkinson show in 1975 has mastered the art of nothingness. ‘Sean Connery put me onto it, when I was doing Mrs Brown [the 1997 film in which he starred with Dame Judi Dench as Queen Victoria’s Scottish servant John Brown and for which he was BAFTA nominated]. He said, “Stay still and shut up. There’s an immense power in it.”‘

Today the 1975 bawdy joke – about a man who murdered his wife and buried her bottom up so he’d have somewhere to park his bike – is still funny but the staying still is borne part from necessity. ‘I have a wee stool I take on stage for my act, and I find I’m clinging to it now, like a fisherman clinging to the wreckage,’ he says. ‘I don’t move as much as I used to because I don’t feel secure in my balance. My way of speaking has changed a bit too. There’s a stillness about it but it seems to be very powerful.’

Illness has not diminished Billy's appetite for work. He has always been a glass-half-full sort of person

Illness has not diminished Billy’s appetite for work. He has always been a glass-half-full sort of person

Illness has not diminished Billy’s appetite for work, and tonight his High Horse tour is on the third night of a 15-show run at London’s Hammersmith Apollo. ‘Parkinson’s is scary if you want it to be, but you mustn’t let it take control. I stay positive just by getting on and going to work. When I was first told, I didn’t know what to do about it. I had no intention of retiring. It was my agent who came to my birthday party and said, “So when am I booking you for a tour?” I said, “I don’t know if I can.” He said, “Of course you can.” He just nudged me over the cliff.’

Billy’s always been a glass-half-full sort of person. Born the youngest of two in a tenement in Glasgow, he was four years old when his mother, Mary, upped and left the family home. He and his sister Florence were bullied by the two aunts who raised them, and when his father William returned from serving in the RAF in Burma Billy was physically and sexually abused by him too. Despite this Billy loved his dad. He still does.

‘Forgiveness,’ he says. ‘It’s the answer to everything. The abuse didn’t bother me much as a child. It was after his death it got worse. I thought it would go away but it didn’t. It kept recurring in my mind. I read a book about forgiveness that Pamela gave me, about taking the load off your shoulders, putting it down and walking away. It’s like having a rucksack full of rocks. You’re carrying around this guilt. Shame. Nobody’s told you you can walk away from it, but it’s a miracle. It works. You can’t let it dominate. It’ll make you sick.’

From the time he was a wee boy Billy believed he was going to be something. ‘I didn’t know what it was,’ says Billy, who began his working life as an apprentice welder. ‘I just knew. I remember welding at the back of a ship where the propeller shaft comes out. I was sitting there looking up the Clyde designing my album sleeve. I didn’t play an instrument, but there I was designing it in my head. It was like Hank Williams – walking into the sunset with the guitar over your shoulder.’

As it was, he decided upon a banjo at the age of 23 and formed a folk group called The Humblebums. Stand-up comedy followed. ‘It was very strange. I read in a newspaper that I was a comedian. I always wanted to be one but I didn’t know how to do that. I was too hairy. Then I got a manager called Frank Lynch in Glasgow who was determined that I was bound for the concert hall and theatre.

He booked them and they filled up. After that Parkinson show it was just “whoosh”.’ Billy made many appearances with Michael Parkinson and the chat show colossus remains a dear friend. When Michael too was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2013, Billy phoned him to commiserate. ‘I couldn’t bring myself to tell him I had Parkinson’s as well,’ he says. ‘I just couldn’t.’

Billy with Robin Williams at the finish of the hill race at Lornach Highland, Scotland, in August 2000, he said he misses his friend terribly

Billy with Robin Williams at the finish of the hill race at Lornach Highland, Scotland, in August 2000, he said he misses his friend terribly

Talking to Billy, you can’t help but feel his astonishingly varied career is something that just happened to him, rather than something he fought for. Take his decision to move to LA in 1991. ‘I was at a party in London with Fergie,’ he says, meaning Sarah, the Duchess of York. ‘I was talking with one of the producers of the American sitcom Head Of The Class and he said, “God you’re funny. Would you like to be in the show?” I said, “I’ll come if you give me the gig. I’m not coming to audition.” He said, “OK.”‘

Then there’s his marriage to Pamela. ‘She fancied me. I found her attractive but I thought she was career-minded, and I was married anyway. It was extraordinary. I was playing at the Dome in Brighton in 1980 and she came to my dressing room. She said, “I thought I’d come and see you.” I said, “Oh yeah.” Bing bong. That was it.’

The anecdotes from his life are many and rich. So much so, the 90 minutes set aside for our chat passes in a flash, but he’s enjoying himself so we push on. ‘I was at Prince Charles’s birthday party once at Buckingham Palace with Elton John. There were people everywhere. Elton says, “Billy, Billy. I can’t see properly. There’s somebody gesturing to me over there, who is it? He’s trying to attract my attention.” ‘I said, “It’s the King of Greece.”‘

Again he’s laughing. We both are. The number of people he knows is quite extraordinary. Does he ever have pinch-me moments? ‘I remember being in LA and I’d just done a concert and John Mayall [the blues singer, guitarist and songwriter] came backstage with all these CDs to have them signed like a fan. That takes my breath away. Eric Idle’s my pal, but he’s also my hero. He’s probably the closest friend I’ve got. We go on holidays and talk and laugh. Have dinner. Shout and bawl. But mostly I’m Luke the drifter. He was the character Hank Williams pictures walking into the sunset with the guitar on his back. I always liked that: the cowboy loner.’

Is there anything he’d still like to do before he walks into the metaphorical sunset? ‘I might give writing a movie a bash,’ he says. ‘It would be about fairness – somebody being cheated and being defended by the most unlikely person, who doesn’t look as if he could save anybody from anything.’ Does he believe good guys always win? ‘They do,’ he says emphatically. ‘There’s a lot of unexplained, coincidental happenings in life. I don’t believe in religion and I don’t like to use words like energy, but… Death quite excites me really. I think of it as a start.’

He pauses. Again, that baby-smooth face creases with humour. ‘I was watching TV the other night and Jennifer Lawrence was asked what she thought happens after you die. She said, “The hospital gives the bed to someone else.” I fell in love with her.’

Just as so many of us have with this hugely funny genius of a man.

Source:  Dailymail.co.uk

News 2’s Larry Flowers to be grand marshal for annual Sickle Cell 5K

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Our very own Larry Flowers will be this year’s Celebrity Grand Marshal for the annual Sickle Cell 5K in Nashville.

The event is in its fifth year and was established to raise awareness about sickle cell disease as well as funds for patient care, social services, and research.

Sickle cell is an inherited blood disorder that affects red blood cells. People with sickle cell disease have red blood cells that contain mostly hemoglobin S, an abnormal type of hemoglobin.Walking with the Stars 5K

Treatment of complications often includes antibiotics, pain management, intravenous fluids, blood transfusion, and surgery, all backed by psychosocial support

All proceeds from the event will directly benefit individuals living with sickle cell.

The race begins June 4 at 8 a.m. at the entrance to Shelby Park located at Shelby Avenue and South 20th Street in East Nashville.

Registration begins at 7 a.m. It costs $25 when you register early, $30 when you register on race day, and the kids one-mile fun run costs $10.

Click here to learn more about the Sickle Cell Foundation of Tennessee.