Category Archives: Heart Disease

I had chronic fatigue syndrome. The Lightning Process at least offers hope | Vonny Leclerc

She thought I was dead. You come home, call out, no answer. You walk in to find your 16-year-old crumpled on the dining-room floor. Drugs? Alcohol? It’s a leap the brain makes. Being so tired that they collapsed on the spot doesn’t feature. Months later, after all but abandoning school, I was told it was myalgic encephalopathy (ME), more commonly known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). It was a diagnosis that felt like little more than a question mark. I’ve long since recovered, but I’m still frustrated by the lack of options for sufferers. How long will they have to wander this wasteland of unanswerables?

But there is perhaps a glimmer on the horizon. A small trial has shown that a commercial therapy called the Lightning Process helped speed up recovery for some youngsters. Though experts have dismissed it as junk science based on the shonky, largely debunked theory of neuro-linguistic programming, there’s a website full of testimonies, and celebrity endorsements. The whole thing has a cult-cum-televangelist piquancy that would crinkle the nose of most sceptics.

But the internet is febrile with discussion – especially now there’s been a positive result. CFS is poorly understood, so near-impossible to treat effectively. This therapy – however tenuous a hope – looks like a lifeline; if I’d been given the chance to try it, I would have. In fact, I’d have had to, because doctors offered me no help other than the name of the ME Association scribbled on a Post-it.

So much of CFS management comes down to personal experimentation informed by anecdote. Being a teenager is a multiplier for despair – it’s no wonder young people are clamouring to try the Lightning Process. Not knowing what was going on or how to make it better was torture, so I tried anything – acupuncture, homeopathy, acrid aloe vera shots. I needed some hope that my situation might improve.

I was born in 1987, the year “yuppie flu” made it into the dictionary; 16 years on, when I developed it, the label still clung. CFS arrives bound in its own mythology, and I didn’t have the energy or enough good information to protest about its dismissal. If the professionals couldn’t explain it, how could I? I’d become the class basket case. At 15, I was a straight-A student heading for law school. Then a mild virus became an ellipsis, a long drawn-out syllable of thing. At 16, fatigue set down roots, and my immediate future clouded over. My life slipped into slo-mo, while those of my peers’ gathered pace. Boys. Girls. Drinking. Sex. Adventures. They dipped digits in adulthood, while most days my toes never made it past the duvet.

I missed my higher maths class – that is a measure of how far I’d slipped out of reality. I was living an adjacent life of the teenage recluse. Deciphering class notes in bed, trying to cheat tiredness with Red Bull, lying on the floor drawing blue pastel hands so I wouldn’t fail art. One friend would visit, climb into my bunk, and just lie with me. CFS changed everything.

Then there was the aching, the dizziness, and the thick, milky cataract that grew over my mind. I remember lying in bed thinking about Slaughterhouse-Five, about the sybaritic pleasure of reading, picking out phrases I could recall: “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.” I ached to luxuriate in words, my now inaccessible refuge. Reading was like catching water in your hands; the words pooled for a moment, then slipped and were gone. I could do without boys if I could have books. It seemed unreasonably cruel to be denied both.

On one of the rare days that I’d managed to make it into school, a teacher pulled me aside, recognising that I was lost. He had wandered the same desert, thirsty for a cure. I leaned on the bench because standing was impossible, and he confided in me. It was an adult conversation, nothing about school work, just the honest dispatches from one sufferer to another. He’d tried a raw food vegan diet and pulled himself back to health. This was a man of science trading in folk remedies and Chinese whispers because to linger in the nothingness would have consumed him. We have to engineer our own coping mechanisms, because they are all we have while we wait for medicine to catch up. I went home and gave up meat.

If the Lightning Process, working alongside medicine, has shown results, it’s worth investigating. Young people with CFS need something to keep the flame of hope alive. They can’t sit around waiting for medicine to figure it out, while they, on the brink of everything, desperate to join the rank and file of carefree teens, can do nothing. It’s indescribably distressing to watch friends blossom into adulthood while you’re shoved into stasis by a mystery illness. They party while you sleep. They learn to drive while you sleep. They fall in love while you sleep.

ME is so much more than the symptoms – the truly devastating thing about it is how it makes you feel about yourself, as anxiety, depression and illness blight your “best years”. If this therapy can help stop the slow creep of hopelessness, or the submission to a condition, then it’s worth trying. Can you think yourself well? Maybe not. But the placebo effect is a powerful thing and believing there was a chance of getting well, even for a while, would have kept me afloat when I felt I was drowning.

Vonny Leclerc is an arts journalist and social activist

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Falling number of NHS child psychiatrists provokes ‘deep concern’

The number of NHS psychiatrists helping troubled children and young people in England is falling despite the growing demand for care, new official figures have shown.

The total number of psychiatrists working in children and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) fell from 1,015 full-time equivalent posts in May 2013 to 948 in May this year. The figure includes all doctors working in CAMHS psychiatry, both consultants and trainees.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists, which uncovered the drop in NHS Digital’s most recent detailed breakdown of the NHS’s 1.4 million workforce, said it was “deeply concerning”. CAMHS teams are already struggling to keep up with the fast-rising number of referrals they are receiving for young people who have anxiety, depression, eating disorders or other conditions. Growing numbers of under-18s in England are self-harming, with the recent rise especially pronounced among girls.

“At a time when demand on mental health services is at its most acute, we are continuously finding that the supply is just not there. As more and more children and young people come forward with mental health problems, fewer and fewer specialists are available,” said Dr Jon Goldin, the vice-chair of the college’s faculty of child and adolescent psychiatry. “The government must show they are aware of the deficit of doctors working in mental health, and commit to a plan to address this deeply concerning imbalance,” said Goldin.

Many CAMHS teams are seeing experienced psychiatrists retire and are also having difficulty finding recruits to fill vacant posts, leading to a shortfall that is affecting the delivery of patient care.

The charity Young Minds warned that the dwindling CAMHS medical workforce could lead to children and young people waiting even longer to receive urgent treatment.

“CAMHS services are overstretched and leave many young people waiting for assessments or turn them away because the thresholds to access care are too high. So these figures showing a reduction in child psychiatrists are concerning,” said Dr Marc Bush, its chief policy adviser.

There is huge unmet need for support and treatment among distressed children. One in four children and young people referred to specialist mental health services are refused help and do not receive any NHS care, despite their mental distress, according to a report earlier this month by the Education Policy Institute thinktank. That equates to about 50,000 under-18s a year not getting vital help.

The state of children’s mental health has acquired a high profile politically in recent years. Theresa May has made it one of her main domestic policy priorities and has suggested that every secondary school could assign a teacher to help pupils with mental health needs and refer them on to NHS services. Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, claimed last year that CAMHS was the most inadequate area of care across the whole range of services the NHS provides.

The proportion of under-18s refused help because they do not meet increasingly high thresholds for care imposed by local CAMHS teams has not fallen, despite the high-level political focus. Pushed by the Liberal Democrats, the coalition pledged to put an extra £250m a year into CAMHS between 2015 and 2020 to improve services.

Bush challenged ministers to deliver on pledges they have made. “Earlier this year the government committed to bringing in 2,000 more posts in CAHMS, as well as new jobs in crisis settings. Bringing in more staff and valuing and incentivising those who are overstretched or have left the profession is vital in improving mental health services for children and young people, and a welcome step,” he added.

The Education Policy Institute did find some evidence of recent improvements. The average waiting time for a troubled young person to be assessed fell from 39 days in 2015-16 to 33 days in 2016-17. Similarly, the delay in starting treatment fell from 67 to 56 days in the same period.

Why we are hard wired to watch pornography | Daniel Glaser

The launch of David Simon’s new series The Deuce (starting on 26 September), has thrust pornography back into the spotlight. One of the most famous neuroscientific discoveries of the last decade probably plays a role.

This is the finding of a ‘mirror neuron’ in the cortex of a macaque monkey, so named because it fires both when the monkey sees an action and when it performs it – ‘mirroring’ behaviour it witnesses.

Cells in the human brain have been shown to exhibit similar behaviour. Dancers use their knowledge of movement to help them see it: to understand and enjoy it more. The implications for pornography are clear. Without such a system in the brain, explaining why people find watching sex arousing is difficult.

There have been a few studies demonstrating a correlation between mirror-system activation and erections in men, but it’s largely escaped systematic study. It’s hard to believe that this use has evolutionary significance, although some studies have shown that male monkeys will give up a certain amount of fruit juice to look at pictures of female monkeys’ bottoms.

Dr Daniel Glaser is director of Science Gallery at King’s College London

Overstretched hospitals face winter flu crisis, doctors warn

Emergency departments risk “grinding to a halt” this winter, say medical leaders. They warn that the number of patients facing long waits for treatment is likely to hit record levels.

Dr Taj Hassan, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said staff were dangerously overstretched, as NHS figures showed the number of people waiting more than 12 hours for treatment during the coldest months of the year has soared.

From January to March 2012, 15 patients waited for more than 12 hours – in 2017 this figure was 100 times greater, at 1,597.

Last winter was the worst on record for delays, with nearly 200,000 patients waiting for longer than the four-hour target. Hassan said emergency services will be under even greater strain this year, with patients forced to wait longer for basic treatments such as pain relief.

“Winter last year was relatively mild and without a major outbreak of flu. There are indications that the flu vaccine will not be as successful this year and as such we anticipate that conditions will be even more difficult,” said Hassan. Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, has already put hospitals on high alert following major flu outbreaks in Australia and New Zealand, which it is feared may be repeated in the UK.

An extra 5,000 beds are needed to “to get us through what will be a pretty awful winter”, said Hassan. “Over the last five years there has been a continued reduction in bed numbers yet an increase in patients needing to be admitted. As a result, bed occupancy is now at 92% – significantly higher than the safe level of 85% – which is having a knock-on effect on waiting times.”

A lack of funding, especially in social care, and staff shortages are preventing patients from being admitted swiftly and undermining safety, he said. “There is not enough money in the system to get social care packages, patients are delayed in hospital who should be at home, there are not enough acute hospital beds.”

The number of patients waiting for more than 12 hours also increased during the spring months, a time when pressures usually start to ease. From April to June 2017, 311 people waited more than 12 hours for treatment. For the same period in 2012, this was the case for only two patients.

Such figures are likely to underestimate the length of time spent in A&E because they only capture waiting times starting from when a decision to admit is made, not when the patient arrives.

“There can be little doubt that patients are suffering the consequences of this reduction,” said Hassan. “Along with more doctors, we desperately need more beds to stop the system from grinding to a halt.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said A&E departments had received an extra £100m to prepare for winter, in addition to £2bn of social care funding.

The spokesperson added :“This analysis completely overlooks the continued rise in demand on A&Es and the fact that since 2010 hardworking NHS staff are treating 1,800 more patients within four hours each day and are seeing 2.8 million more people each year.”

Overstretched hospitals face winter flu crisis, doctors warn

Emergency departments risk “grinding to a halt” this winter, say medical leaders. They warn that the number of patients facing long waits for treatment is likely to hit record levels.

Dr Taj Hassan, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said staff were dangerously overstretched, as NHS figures showed the number of people waiting more than 12 hours for treatment during the coldest months of the year has soared.

From January to March 2012, 15 patients waited for more than 12 hours – in 2017 this figure was 100 times greater, at 1,597.

Last winter was the worst on record for delays, with nearly 200,000 patients waiting for longer than the four-hour target. Hassan said emergency services will be under even greater strain this year, with patients forced to wait longer for basic treatments such as pain relief.

“Winter last year was relatively mild and without a major outbreak of flu. There are indications that the flu vaccine will not be as successful this year and as such we anticipate that conditions will be even more difficult,” said Hassan. Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, has already put hospitals on high alert following major flu outbreaks in Australia and New Zealand, which it is feared may be repeated in the UK.

An extra 5,000 beds are needed to “to get us through what will be a pretty awful winter”, said Hassan. “Over the last five years there has been a continued reduction in bed numbers yet an increase in patients needing to be admitted. As a result, bed occupancy is now at 92% – significantly higher than the safe level of 85% – which is having a knock-on effect on waiting times.”

A lack of funding, especially in social care, and staff shortages are preventing patients from being admitted swiftly and undermining safety, he said. “There is not enough money in the system to get social care packages, patients are delayed in hospital who should be at home, there are not enough acute hospital beds.”

The number of patients waiting for more than 12 hours also increased during the spring months, a time when pressures usually start to ease. From April to June 2017, 311 people waited more than 12 hours for treatment. For the same period in 2012, this was the case for only two patients.

Such figures are likely to underestimate the length of time spent in A&E because they only capture waiting times starting from when a decision to admit is made, not when the patient arrives.

“There can be little doubt that patients are suffering the consequences of this reduction,” said Hassan. “Along with more doctors, we desperately need more beds to stop the system from grinding to a halt.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said A&E departments had received an extra £100m to prepare for winter, in addition to £2bn of social care funding.

The spokesperson added :“This analysis completely overlooks the continued rise in demand on A&Es and the fact that since 2010 hardworking NHS staff are treating 1,800 more patients within four hours each day and are seeing 2.8 million more people each year.”

Mental health data shows stark difference between girls and boys

A snapshot view of NHS and other data on child and adolescent mental health reveals a stark difference along gender lines.

As reported earlier this week, the results of a study by University College London and the University of Liverpool show a discrepancy between the emotional problems perceived by parents and the feelings expressed by their children. Researchers asked parents to report signs of emotional problems in their children at various ages; they also presented the children at age 14 with a series of questions to detect symptoms of depression.

Graph showing that there is a discrepancy between self-expressed emotional problems in teens and problems reported by their parents


The study reveals that almost a quarter of teenage girls exhibit depressive symptoms. Data from NHS Digital, which examines the proportion of antidepressants prescribed to teenagers between 13 and 17 years old, shows that three-quarters of all antidepressants for this age group are prescribed to girls.

More than two-thirds of antidepressants prescribed to teenagers are for girls


Eating disorders are one of the most common manifestations of mental health problems, and are in some cases closely related to depression. A year-by-year breakdown of hospital admissions for eating disorders indicates that, while eating disorders in both boys and girls are on the rise, more than 90% of teens admitted to the hospital for treatment are girls.

Graph showing the difference between girls and boys admitted to hospital for eating disorders

Records also show hospital admissions dating back to 2005 for individuals under 18 years old who committed self-harm. While the numbers for boys have seen a smaller amount of variation with a general upward trend, the figure for girls has climbed sharply during the last decade, with the most significant jump occurring between 2012/13 and 2013/14.

Hospital admissions for self-harm are up by two-thirds among girls


Two of the most common methods of self-harm are poisoning and cutting. Self-poisoning victims are about five times as likely to be girls, and the number of girls hospitalised for cutting themselves has quadrupled over the course of a decade.

Most self-harm admissions involve cases of self-poisoning, which has risen drastically among girls
Self-harm hospitalisations involving girls cutting themselves have quadrupled since 2005


Although self-harm, depression, and other mental health problems are more commonly reported and identified in girls, suicide rates are far higher among boys. This data is consistent with research on differences found between men and women in methods used to commit suicide, the influence of alcohol, and other social or cultural factors.

Teenage boys are more than twice as likely to kill themselves as girls
  • In the UK the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

Mental health data shows stark difference between girls and boys

A snapshot view of NHS and other data on child and adolescent mental health reveals a stark difference along gender lines.

As reported earlier this week, the results of a study by University College London and the University of Liverpool show a discrepancy between the emotional problems perceived by parents and the feelings expressed by their children. Researchers asked parents to report signs of emotional problems in their children at various ages; they also presented the children at age 14 with a series of questions to detect symptoms of depression.

Graph showing that there is a discrepancy between self-expressed emotional problems in teens and problems reported by their parents


The study reveals that almost a quarter of teenage girls exhibit depressive symptoms. Data from NHS Digital, which examines the proportion of antidepressants prescribed to teenagers between 13 and 17 years old, shows that three-quarters of all antidepressants for this age group are prescribed to girls.

More than two-thirds of antidepressants prescribed to teenagers are for girls


Eating disorders are one of the most common manifestations of mental health problems, and are in some cases closely related to depression. A year-by-year breakdown of hospital admissions for eating disorders indicates that, while eating disorders in both boys and girls are on the rise, more than 90% of teens admitted to the hospital for treatment are girls.

Graph showing the difference between girls and boys admitted to hospital for eating disorders

Records also show hospital admissions dating back to 2005 for individuals under 18 years old who committed self-harm. While the numbers for boys have seen a smaller amount of variation with a general upward trend, the figure for girls has climbed sharply during the last decade, with the most significant jump occurring between 2012/13 and 2013/14.

Hospital admissions for self-harm are up by two-thirds among girls


Two of the most common methods of self-harm are poisoning and cutting. Self-poisoning victims are about five times as likely to be girls, and the number of girls hospitalised for cutting themselves has quadrupled over the course of a decade.

Most self-harm admissions involve cases of self-poisoning, which has risen drastically among girls
Self-harm hospitalisations involving girls cutting themselves have quadrupled since 2005


Although self-harm, depression, and other mental health problems are more commonly reported and identified in girls, suicide rates are far higher among boys. This data is consistent with research on differences found between men and women in methods used to commit suicide, the influence of alcohol, and other social or cultural factors.

Teenage boys are more than twice as likely to kill themselves as girls
  • In the UK the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.

Farmer wants a revolution: ‘How is this not genocide?’

The kurrajong tree has scars in its wrinkled trunk, the healed wounds run long and vertical under its ancient bark. Standing in front of the homestead, it nestles in a dip on high tableland from which there is a clear view across miles and miles of rolling plains to the coastal range of south-east Australia.

Charles Massy grew up here, on the sweeping Monaro plateau that runs off the eastern flank of Mount Kosciuszko, an only child enveloped by the natural world, running barefoot, accompanied by dogs and orphaned lambs. Fifth generation, he has spent his adult life farming this tough, lean, tussock country; he is of this place and it of him. But when his friend and Aboriginal Ngarigo elder Rod Mason came to visit he discovered that a lifetime of intimately knowing the birds, trees and animals of this land wasn’t significant at all.

The tree is probably a lot older than 400 years. Rod told him that when the old women walked their favourite songline tracks they carried seeds of their favourite food and resource plants, and sowed them at spirituality significant camping places. His front garden was one such ceremony place – there would have been a grove planted, and the women had stripped the bark from the tree to make bags and material. This old tree represented a connection to country “deeper than we can imagine, and linking us indivisibly with the natural world”, he writes in his book Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture – A New Earth.

Part lyrical nature writing, part storytelling, part solid scientific evidence, part scholarly research, part memoir, the book is an elegant manifesto, an urgent call to stop trashing the Earth and start healing it. More than that, it underlines a direct link between soil health and human health, and that the chemicals used in industrial agriculture are among the causes of modern illness.


It makes a world war look like a little storm in a teacup. And we are in denial

“Most of our cereal crops, the soybeans, the corn, are all predicated now on the world’s most widely used chemical which is glyphosate [Roundup],” Massy says. “There is mounting evidence that it is one of the most destructive chemicals ever to get into the system. Its main effect is on the human gut and our entire immune system.

“When you look at the As – autism, ADHD, all the other auto-immune diseases – their take off is a 95% correlation to these chemicals being introduced. The evidence is that it affects the gut and the immune system, though it is not the sole factor, and it is a complex thing. But it is that gut that drives our whole immune system, it is our second brain.”

Roundup in a supermarket


‘There is mounting evidence that it is one of the most destructive chemicals ever to get into the system,’ Charles Massy says of Roundup. Photograph: Rene van den Berg/Alamy

He says that when you spray insects with insecticides you kill off the predators so you have got to have more powerful chemicals next time because the pests come back stronger. “Roundup is now on its sixth or seventh phase.”

Massy is among scientists who believe we have entered a new geological epoch, the life-threatening Anthropocene, where human impact has permanently altered the Earth’s geology and sustaining systems, causing ecological destruction and extinction of species. “It is the greatest crisis the planet and humanity has ever faced,” he says, sitting at his kitchen table in country New South Wales. “It makes a world war look like a little storm in a teacup. And we are in denial.”

Tall, lean, fit, with white hair crowning a face that has spent a life outdoors, Massy looks more like the establishment grazier he is rather than a powerful advocate for revolutionising everything about the way we farm, eat and think about food. We are at a tipping point, he says, and if we it ignore we are “history”.

Massy spent eight years going to his office in an outbuilding behind the house in the early hours of morning to write before a day of working on the farm; the 569-page book is his life’s work; the big picture, the long view both historical and into the future that pulls together the latest international scientific research and thinking on climate change, regenerative farming, industrial agriculture and the corporations driving it.

He writes: “While consuming more resources than the Earth’s systems can replenish, we are hurtling towards multiple calamities. We are degrading the air we breathe, denaturing the food we eat and water we drink and lacing them with a witch’s brew of deadly poisons.”

We have lost touch with the land, we manipulate the Earth to our own ends, we dominate it and are ultimately destroying it. Aboriginal people, he says, saw it differently, as something to be nurtured and nourished, a living entity. He calls their custodianship “one of the greatest ever sustainable partnerships between humankind and the ecosystems they occupied”.

Farmer and author Charles Massy


The farmer, scientist and author at home on his property, Severn Park. Photograph: Mike Bowers for the Guardian

Then white Australians brought what he calls the mechanical mind and the European mind. “It is a totally different continent to anywhere else in the world. It works totally differently to that young landscape of Europe with humidity and rich soils. Until we throw off the European mechanical mind we are going to continue to stuff the joint. It is not something inanimate that you can belt. It is almost like being with a lover, you have got to nurture it and care for it.”

Now 65 and “a fossil” Massy is, by his own admission, a “biophilia”, filled with the wonder and delight of nature. “I believe one cannot gain true ecological literacy without a great empathy with, and understanding of, nature and how it functions. Thus one’s heart also needs to be involved.”

But his own journey and awakening was slow and stumbling. He was at university when, at the age of 22, his father had a heart attack and he came home to manage the merino and cattle property. Well-intentioned and diligent he read the books, he sought advice, he learned. “I thought I was running a pretty good show.” His wool was being bought for fabric by “the top guys in Italy. We were the first group to breed animal welfare-friendly sheep.” But he now realises he was “blind” and “oblivious”, he saw the landscape “as if through a glass darkly”.

He writes: “I completely overlooked the most important of all factors, the keystone of the whole operation: that our farm was a complex and dynamic series of ecological systems, and that our landscape actually functioned in specific but sensitive ways.” He made mistakes; he assiduously ploughed a paddock just before a huge storm came and washed the topsoil away, “I had cost the landscape perhaps a thousand years of topsoil.” Like many other regenerative farmers he reached the conclusion he had to make a big shift when something “cracked” his mind open.


If people ate truly nutrient-rich food out of healthy soil, you would slash the national health bill straight away

For Massy it was the years of drought, 1979 to 1983, that plunged him into depression and major debt. He finally understood that he needed a completely different mindset and management approach if he was going to come to terms with the reality of drought. “The land, soils, micro-organisms and other creatures and vegetation are adapted to this,” he writes. And so he began his journey towards enlightenment. After 35 years he went back to university and completed a PhD in human ecology, consulting everyone from scientists to Aboriginal elders.

We are driving in his ute across the plateau, cloud shadows dancing across the big-sky landscape, kangaroos and wallabies bouncing along, kelpies on the back to muster the healthy sheep. The paddocks are strewn with great monolithic rocks, 400m years old. There are birds and wildlife that have returned since he became a holistic farmer. Deep in the soil the bugs, microbes and fungi are sourcing nitrogen and nutrients. Change has to literally be grassroots, food health comes from the ground up, the health of people is entwined with the health of landscapes and soil. “The minute you fertilise and spray all that biology is gone. The vital thing about regenerative or organic farming is this healthy living dynamic soil. Landscapes with diverse arrays of plants are nutrition centres and pharmacies with vast arrays of primary and secondary compounds.”

As the dogs bound away to herd the sheep, he says, “One of the big ideas I discovered going back to uni was this concept which I came to, that our natural complex systems will self-organise themselves back to health. I think it is one of the biggest ideas. I think it is as big as evolution. It has only just emerged with physics and chemistry and computers and stuff. The Earth itself it is a self-organising regulating system.”

The human element is the problem, the learning how to live tuned to its rhythms, to get out of its way, to listen to the land. “I say confidently that not many farmers can read the landscape. For them to change they have got to admit they have been wrong for most of their lives. The thing that is challenging about it is that you have got to be totally flexible to adjustment and really get your mind into how nature works and be able to change tactics.”

He tells the story of the grasshoppers. Before he began holistic grazing the property was regularly hit by plagues of wingless grasshoppers. “They turned an OK season into instant drought. They thrive under degrading management, bare ground provides them with egg beds. But once we began our biodiverse plantings plus holistic grazing we have not had a grasshopper attack since.

The entrance to Charles Massy’s property


The entrance to Severn Park: ‘Now we have got 10 invaluable native grass species I never thought I would see on our property,’ Massy says. Photograph: Mike Bowers for the Guardian

“Ecological grazing yields total ground cover, higher cover, deeper roots, more moisture absorption plus more biologically alive soils; it means nematodes and other creatures eat the grasshopper eggs. You get excited when you see a new plant species suddenly emerge again. Now we have got 10 invaluable native grass species I never thought I would see on our property.”

The winter nights are cold on the plateau and, with a glass of red wine and before an open fire, Massy is unrepentant about criticising the big-end-of-town companies that promote chemicals in industrial farming, and the governments that don’t act. In the book he says unhealthy food “is not just poisoning us but is also, confoundingly, making us obese as well”. Now he says “when you are eating that McDonald’s crap even though you are bloated your body is still hungry because your organs are not getting nutrients.

“If people ate truly nutrient-rich food out of healthy soil, you would slash the national health bill straight away. The big chemical companies and big food companies know exactly what they are doing. It is now causing millions of deaths – tell me why that is not genocide?”

But just as nature find its own solutions, culling, reorganising, so too is Massy offering answers, a “toolkit” of how to change.

“This combines the best of Old Organic – namely its respect, empathy and reverence for Mother Nature – with the best of modern, ecologically simpatico science and Earth-empathic thought.” The kind of people who make the change, he found, were those with strong belief in community and healthy food that does not come from contaminated soil.

Call of the Reed Warbler cover

What lies beneath “is a burgeoning mass of life and activity that is 10-fold that above the ground; fungi bacteria, and other organisms have begun to create and sustain an entirely different, living absorbent soil structure; the very heart and essence of healthy farming and landscape function. The secret is to simply restore healthy landscape function and allow nature to do the rest.”

Massy agrees that he is “not naive enough to think it would be a nice seamless shift. I think we are going to see some pretty frightening stuff.”

But for him, a defining moment came when, while sitting against an old snow gum, he heard the “beautiful, piercing song of a reed warbler” returning after a long absence from this area. It was, he says, a “metaphor for us humans to once more become the enablers, the nurturers, the lovers of Earth”.

Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture – A New Earth is published by University of Queensland Press ($ 39.95)

Get up, stand up: including exercise in everyday life healthier than gym, says study

Incorporating physical activity into our everyday lives, from taking the stairs to holding “walkaround” meetings in the office, is more likely to protect us from heart disease and an early death than buying a gym membership, according to the author of a major new global study.

The study, published in the Lancet medical journal, found that one in 20 cases of heart disease and one in 12 premature deaths around the globe could be prevented if people were more physically active. It compared 130,000 people in 17 countries, from affluent countries like Canada and Sweden to some of the least affluent, including Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

While 30 minutes of exercise per day for five days a week, which most guidelines recommend, reduces heart disease and deaths, one to two hours a day is the optimal amount of physical activity, said lead author Professor Scott Lear, of Simon Fraser University’s faculty of health sciences in Vancouver, Canada.

Most people will think they cannot incorporate that much physical activity into their life, he said. “They will think ‘I’m stressed out and have to make dinner – and then do exercise for two hours!’” he said.

But the study showed that those people who have the highest activity levels are those for whom it is part of their everyday working lives. In developing countries, more people still have physically taxing jobs but as they become more economically prosperous, their activity levels fall.

“They are going from sweeping the floor to buying a vacuum,” said Lear.

He does not advocate selling the vacuum cleaner, but we could all incorporate more activity into our lives rather than relying on occasional forays to the gym or swimming pool. “It becomes routine as opposed to an endeavour,” he said. “Sitting for hours is not good for hearts or the physical body. Getting up every 20 to 30 minutes for a walk around is beneficial. I have a cooking timer.

“We spend a lot of time in meetings. If it is just two or three people, why not have a walkaround meeting?”

He also suggests playing with children in the park rather than sitting watching them, increasing the walk to work by getting off the tube or bus early and taking the stairs rather than the lift.

The authors found that the more physically active people were, the lower their risk of heart disease or an early death.

“Participating at even low physical activity confers benefit and the benefit continues to increase up to high total physical activity,” says the study. People who did more than 750 minutes of brisk walking or equivalent activity per week reduced their risk of death by 36%.

But the study notes that “the affordability of other CVD [cardiovascular disease] interventions such as consuming fruits and vegetables and generic CVD drugs is beyond the reach of many people in low-income and middle-income countries; however, physical activity represents a low-cost approach to CVD prevention.”

While the amount of physical work people do in low income countries reduces heart disease, their chances of surviving if they do have a heart attack or stroke are lower because their health services are not as advanced.

The World Health Organisation recommends that adults aged 18-64 years old do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week, as well as muscle strengthening exercises at least two days a week. But it is thought that almost a quarter (23%) of the world’s population are not meeting physical activity guidelines.

The study is the first to compare physical activity and heart disease levels in countries of varying affluence.

“The clear-cut results reinforce the message that exercise truly is the best medicine at our disposal for reducing the odds of an early death,” said Dr James Rudd, a senior lecturer in cardiovascular medicine at the University of Cambridge.If a drug company came up with a medicine as effective as exercise, they would have a billion-dollar blockbuster on their hands and a Nobel prize in the post.”

“There is a trend for more heart disease in lower income groups both within and between populations,” said John Martin, professor of cardiovascular medicine at University College London. “In the UK it has been shown that lower social class is associated with more heart disease. Walking is easy and cheap. This study should encourage governments to rebalance health budgets away from high tech treatment of heart disease to promoting simple strategies of prevention like walking.”

Professor Metin Avkiran, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation said: “In an age where we’re living increasingly busy but often sedentary lives in the west, weaving physical activity into our daily routines has never been more important, not only to improve our physical health but also overall well-being. Increased physical activity could have an even greater beneficial impact in lower income countries, due to its low its cost and the high incidence of heart disease in those countries.”

Get up, stand up: including exercise in everyday life healthier than gym, says study

Incorporating physical activity into our everyday lives, from taking the stairs to holding “walkaround” meetings in the office, is more likely to protect us from heart disease and an early death than buying a gym membership, according to the author of a major new global study.

The study, published in the Lancet medical journal, found that one in 20 cases of heart disease and one in 12 premature deaths around the globe could be prevented if people were more physically active. It compared 130,000 people in 17 countries, from affluent countries like Canada and Sweden to some of the least affluent, including Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

While 30 minutes of exercise per day for five days a week, which most guidelines recommend, reduces heart disease and deaths, one to two hours a day is the optimal amount of physical activity, said lead author Professor Scott Lear, of Simon Fraser University’s faculty of health sciences in Vancouver, Canada.

Most people will think they cannot incorporate that much physical activity into their life, he said. “They will think ‘I’m stressed out and have to make dinner – and then do exercise for two hours!’” he said.

But the study showed that those people who have the highest activity levels are those for whom it is part of their everyday working lives. In developing countries, more people still have physically taxing jobs but as they become more economically prosperous, their activity levels fall.

“They are going from sweeping the floor to buying a vacuum,” said Lear.

He does not advocate selling the vacuum cleaner, but we could all incorporate more activity into our lives rather than relying on occasional forays to the gym or swimming pool. “It becomes routine as opposed to an endeavour,” he said. “Sitting for hours is not good for hearts or the physical body. Getting up every 20 to 30 minutes for a walk around is beneficial. I have a cooking timer.

“We spend a lot of time in meetings. If it is just two or three people, why not have a walkaround meeting?”

He also suggests playing with children in the park rather than sitting watching them, increasing the walk to work by getting off the tube or bus early and taking the stairs rather than the lift.

The authors found that the more physically active people were, the lower their risk of heart disease or an early death.

“Participating at even low physical activity confers benefit and the benefit continues to increase up to high total physical activity,” says the study. People who did more than 750 minutes of brisk walking or equivalent activity per week reduced their risk of death by 36%.

But the study notes that “the affordability of other CVD [cardiovascular disease] interventions such as consuming fruits and vegetables and generic CVD drugs is beyond the reach of many people in low-income and middle-income countries; however, physical activity represents a low-cost approach to CVD prevention.”

While the amount of physical work people do in low income countries reduces heart disease, their chances of surviving if they do have a heart attack or stroke are lower because their health services are not as advanced.

The World Health Organisation recommends that adults aged 18-64 years old do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week, as well as muscle strengthening exercises at least two days a week. But it is thought that almost a quarter (23%) of the world’s population are not meeting physical activity guidelines.

The study is the first to compare physical activity and heart disease levels in countries of varying affluence.

“The clear-cut results reinforce the message that exercise truly is the best medicine at our disposal for reducing the odds of an early death,” said Dr James Rudd, a senior lecturer in cardiovascular medicine at the University of Cambridge.If a drug company came up with a medicine as effective as exercise, they would have a billion-dollar blockbuster on their hands and a Nobel prize in the post.”

“There is a trend for more heart disease in lower income groups both within and between populations,” said John Martin, professor of cardiovascular medicine at University College London. “In the UK it has been shown that lower social class is associated with more heart disease. Walking is easy and cheap. This study should encourage governments to rebalance health budgets away from high tech treatment of heart disease to promoting simple strategies of prevention like walking.”

Professor Metin Avkiran, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation said: “In an age where we’re living increasingly busy but often sedentary lives in the west, weaving physical activity into our daily routines has never been more important, not only to improve our physical health but also overall well-being. Increased physical activity could have an even greater beneficial impact in lower income countries, due to its low its cost and the high incidence of heart disease in those countries.”