without too much technical terms, let us talk about health issues

Health and Well-being

Last June 19 - 22 was Well-Being Week at the European Parliament and there were exhibitions and information sessions held to inspire and help people to be healthy and happy. June 21 was Music Festival not only in France and Luxembourg but in many parts of the world, and it made many people joyful. June 22 was UN International Yoga Day and it highlighted the useful contribution of yoga to humankind's healthy lifestyle that is harmonious with nature. In Luxembourg, the 23rd was a public holiday as it was the country's national day filled with festivities, food stalls, concerts, fireworks and merrymaking.

These were different events, but had similar goals, which were to inform, entertain and encourage people to relax and be peaceful -- important for our well-being. When we are happy and peaceful, we are stressed-resistant and our immune system functions favourably maintaining a healthy body and mind. My adult students recently did a class project on health and well-being, and concluded that “Healthy workplaces are positive and positive workplaces are healthy.”

You may argue that achieving a work-life balance isn’t easy as it doesn’t only involve you and there are issues beyond your control, such as a demanding job and/or boss. Rightly so, however, this one person (YOU) has choices. We can have positive daily work experience in the midst of deadlines, not-so-caring supervisor and uncooperative or annoying colleagues. At home, relationships can be improved by having open communication, by being honest and respectful, and by showing more empathy and understanding. We have different levels of optimism, but even a half-empty glass has a space that can be filled. If everyone contributes to filling this, it does not take long for it to be full again.

On the global level, The World Economic Forum (Matthieu Ricard) has identified 5 ways to improve health and well-being: (... Read more ...)








Healthy and wise

It was a rainy day in the morning of November 5, and there was already a queue at our local theatre hall. A young lady opened the door and helped me find the umbrella rack. She said, “I’ve never seen these many people eager to donate blood, especially on a gloomy day like this.” I remarked, “It might be the warmth and dryness that have brought them here.”

After over an hour of waiting and filling in the 4-page questionnaire, the doctor told me politely that I could not donate blood because I’m less than 50kg. I was surprised and disappointed thus as soon as I got home, I checked online to make sure that it had nothing to do with reasons other than weight.

Yes, it’s true that donors are required to have the minimum weight of 50kg for a minimum of 400ml of blood for the blood bag to contain the sufficient therapeutic dose (as the doctor had explained to me).

I was really looking forward to it that I had ample breakfast to help me avoid feeling unwell or fainting; consequently, I had to delay lunch.

The Etablissement Français du Sang – EFS (French National Blood Service) is responsible for the collection of all types of blood donation and takes all precautions to ensure that donations (whether they be whole blood, platelet, plasma, and bone marrow or cord blood) are done in high quality and safety conditions for both donors and receivers.

While queuing I heard that about 14% of the French population donate blood annually. People between the ages of 18 and 70 can donate blood. After the age of 60, however, all donations require the approval of an EFS doctor.

Expired Medication

There were more rainy than sunny days in my region last month. As in previous spring months, I took the pleasure organising not only my wardrobe but cabinets and cupboards. I was heartbroken putting outdated medicines in a paper bag. I thought of bringing these to the chemist (UK)/pharmacy (US) on my way to work, but the queue was half a kilometre long and my bus was about 5 minutes from departing, so I ended up bringing this with me to a nearby country (where I work) that does not legally obliged chemists to take unwanted or expired medicines.

Arriving in the classroom, the first thing I did was to ask my students if they knew of the nearby chemist that accept expired drugs. Co-incidentally, one of them actually took an expired aspirin that morning and she said that she had done this before and it was effective in getting rid of her headache.
The other two students asked me if we can still consume drugs after their use-by date. The Harvard Medical School has reported Psychopharmacology Today’s advice that a drug is absolutely 100% effective even when the expiration date has passed a few years.

According to Psychopharmacology Today, most of what is known about drug expiration dates comes from a study conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration for the military, and this study found that 90% of more than 100 drugs (both prescription and over-the-counter) were perfectly good to use even after 15 years of its expiration date (except nitro-glycerine, insulin and liquid antibiotics), and placing a medication in a cool place (such as a refrigerator) will help drugs remain potent for many years.

(Do you wonder about the role of manufacturers and those in the market chain regarding the use-by or expiration date?)

Consumption of dietary and vitamin supplements is cultural

Getting into a chemist (Oceania and the UK)/pharmacy (US) in Australia, you notice immediately the wide range of dietary and vitamin supplements occupying almost a third of the store. There are a variety of choices from A to Z of brands locally and internationally. But, in France and Luxembourg this is not the case. Often, you have to ask the staff for common vitamin supplements, such as Omega 3 and grape seed tablets, which are stocked between beauty products and medicines. In developing countries of Asia, Africa and Central & South America, these are highly unaffordable for most people. Surprisingly, however, the Nielsen study showed that Asians (and North Americans) lead the world in the usage of dietary and vitamin supplements with the highest levels found in the Philippines and Thailand (66% compared to 56% in the USA). Europe (30%) and Latin America (28%) had the lowest intake (France and Spain at the bottom: 17% and 13% respectively). The respondents' main reason for not taking vitamins was that "their diets were already balanced while those in Poland, Russia and the Baltic states felt that "it is too difficult to understand which product to use." (''North-America, Asia lead vitamin and supplement usage'').

It is known that, generally, Europeans have poor vitamin D. A comparative study of eating habits and calcium & vitamin D intakes in Central-Eastern European countries conducted by the Faculty of Health Sciences in Semmelweis University, Hungary headed by Dr. Katalin Tátrai-Nèmeth concluded that the highest calcium intake was in the Hungarian population while the lowest in Slovenia, and vitamin D intake was critically low in both of these countries. (''A comparative study of eating habits calcium and vitamin D intakes in the population'').

Beauty, Love and Health

Lately, I've been bumping into online photos of Pierce Brosnan (James Bond Golden Eye, Mamma Mia, TV series Remington Steele, etc.) and his wife. There seems to be a fascination for the couple's physical attributes: “Pierce Brosnan should be able to get any woman he wants, but the 60-year-old is sticking with his overweight wife” ( March 7/14), which I find stomach-turning. Most women, me included, would exchange place with Kelly any time to have the love and devotion of a partner or husband. Likewise, we rather be with a physically unattractive but faithful and caring spouse than otherwise.

Our concept of beauty is learned and transmitted through family values, cultural traditions and socialisation via formal education, entertainment and the media (print, audio-visual and internet). Generally, beauty is not only about face and weight; it involves smell, movements and a combination of all the individual's qualities that please our senses and mind.

Beauty is the label we attach to different criteria based on what we've been(and are..) socialised into, experienced and exposed to regularly. It is relative and not universal as it means different things to different people. For example, Samoans and Mauritanians consider big women as more desirable and make better wives. (“Samoa's prime minister has called for his nation's women to stay away from international beauty contests because they favour skinny and scrawny-looking women” (Samoaobserver, 6/10/13).

Mental health and safety concerns

First and foremost, our condolences to families, relatives and friends of the 150 passengers on board Germanwings A320 Airbus flight 4U 9525 from Barcelona to Duesseldorf that went down in a French mountain. According to media reports, the victims included 72 Germans (16 were school students), 51 Spaniards, and those from Argentina, Australia, Britain, Colombia, Denmark, Iran, Israel, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, the US and Venezuela.

The following is's 2015 annual list of the world's 10 safest airlines: Australian airline Qantas ("Continues to lead the industry with safety innovations and its fleet is now the youngest -- 7.9 years," editor Geoffrey Thomas tells CNN). The others, in alphabetical order, are: Air New Zealand, British Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, Emirates, Etihad Airways, EVA Air, Finnair, Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines. (see CNN's "What are the world's safest airlines?").

Lufthansa owns Germanwings, and its reputed safety measures didn't prevent a psychotic deed from killing innocent people. The cockpit voice recorder's information suggests that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz took over the control of the plane and crashed it. There have been reports of Lubitz' depression as the reason for such tragedy. This incident, no doubt, will make airline companies more stringent when hiring personnel and conducting compulsory mental and psychological examinations of all flight crew members (in addition to the physical ones).

Illegal drone flights and iodine pills








Wealth and Health

Two weeks ago, I received a letter from the State advising me to avail of the free testing for colorectal cancer. It says "It has already been 2 years and is time to do this." All I've to do is bring this letter to my generalist who'll organise it at the expense of the French Government. Though the positive results are between 2-3%, it's fairly important to do it because colorectal cancer develops in the colon, rectum and intestine from an abnormal growth of cells that can spread to other parts of the body. The common signs of this cancer are: change in bowel habits, nauseas, vomiting, abdominal discomfort, weight loss, weakness and anemia.

As such, I take this preventive measure seriously and feel lucky to be in a country where health, social and welfare services are accessible to its population. The government is wise because "prevention is better than cure." Treating an illness is more expensive, takes more time and is more emotionally draining. So, all governments should do this, but why don’t they? These preventive measures cost and, not really the priority, especially of those who are struggling to feed their people. Hence, it’s not surprising that, generally, wealthy nations have healthy people. However, there is also the question of politics and policies.

According to World Health Organisation's (WHO) data, the country with the highest government spending per person per year on health is Luxembourg (US$ 6,906/ Euros 5,441.60); country with lowest government spending per person per year on health is Myanmar (US$ 2/ Euros 1.60); country with highest annual out-of-pocket household spending on health is Switzerland (US$ 2,412/ Euros 1,900.73); and country with lowest annual out-of-pocket household spending on health Kiribati (US$ 0.2/ Euros 0.158).

Konjac or konnyaku

Konjac - Courtesy:

Konjac or konnyaku (in Japanese) for health benefits/use


Konjac - Courtesy:







Body and Organ Donation

“If the doctor had asked for the body of my daughter, I would have said yes. I don’t want any parent to go through this. Hope they’ll soon find the real cause and treatment for it.” I couldn’t control the tears rolling down my cheeks thinking of the generosity of this mother who burried her 19yo daughter three days before my visit to her home.

I had thought of donating my body parts to save lives but not to science (and why not?) The human body is the source of knowledge necessary for medical education and research. Any major or adult person of sound mind can donate his/her body for medical education and research; and there’s no upper age limitation. In all cases, a written and witnessed autorisation is required prior to death. Our family members or doctor should be informed of our decision as it’s them or our executor who notify the recipient- centre/institution. Medical and research institutions in most countries refuse bodies that resulted from a suicide, have been subjected to an autopsy or had infectious diseases, e.g. HIV. Donated bodies are cremated and family can obtain the ashes if not forbidden by the donour.

How about donating my body for transplantation? According to journal articles, my sole body (with healthy kidneys, lungs, heart, liver, pancreas, intestines, cornea, bones, skin, etc) can help as many as 50 people.

Comparing food and well/ill being in 125 countries

This month, it hasn’t been easy to decide what to write as there as several interesting issues that have come my way. Should I respond to my English friends' remarks about French politics, morality and mentality? Should I share my first chess tournament experience involving nearly one hundred (only about a dozen female) players? The PISA results? How about food and health?

According to the recent OXFAM survey of 125 countries on food availability, diversity, affordability and quality, the best country is Netherlands; followed by France and Switzerland. The other top countries are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Australia, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg and Portugal. (

Unfortunately, among these 12 countries, Australia has the highest obesity level (27% of its population). Forty-two per cent of Kuwaitis while a third of Americans and Egyptians are obese. The study doesn't include the Pacific Islands; however, it notes that these nations have the highest level of obesity in the world. For instance, 72% of Nauru’s population is obese. Meanwhile Saudi Arabia has the highest rate of diabetes.

Expectedly, there is very little obesity in Bangladesh, Nepal and Ethiopia; and malnutrition is worst in Yemen, India and Madagascar.

The 10 worst countries in terms of food availability, diversity, affordability and quality are Chad, Angola, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Yemen, Niger, Burundi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone.






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