Bollywood’s hot new topics: open toilets, menstrual hygiene and erectile dysfunction

20/08/2017 Anupama Chopra 0

Forget all those swirling songs and plots about love, heartache and family values. Bollywood has more pressing concerns

‘This is not about defecation,” says the hero of Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, which translates as Toilet: A Love Story. “It is about our whole way of thinking!” What makes this startling line all the more surprising is that it is delivered by Akshay Kumar, an actor straight out of the Bollywood A-list.

The film, as the second half of its title suggests, has no shortage of such Bollywood staples as romance and love songs. But the main subject matter is one that no Hindi film has ever tackled before: open defecation. This is a singularly Indian problem. Various studies estimate that 60% of India’s billion-plus population don’t have access to a bathroom. For women, this isn’t just a question of sanitation. It’s about safety, privacy and independence.

Related: India’s women given low-cost route to sanitary protection

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Why is ketchup so delicious? Science answers the big food questions

What’s good, what’s bad and why – five food questions answered by consultant cardiologist Ali Khavandi and science writer Dara Mohammadi

Whether you’re a dolloper or a Jackson Pollocker, a plate of chips just isn’t the same without a good squirt of ketchup. But why does it make chips taste so much better? It’s the same reason Iberico ham is more moreish than the boiled stuff and why a sprinkle of parmesan makes a bowl of pasta that much fresher. The answer is the Japanese word for “savoury” or “deliciousness”, the fifth and most elusive of tastes: umami.

It may not be a coincidence that our reduction in fibre consumption has coincided with the rise in many modern diseases

The F-word has such a bad image that even KFC rebranded itself to be free of its oil-splattered reputation

In the 60s, bread manufacturers aimed for a Superman bread but ended up with a Frankenstein one

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How your brain tricks you to protect your skin | Daniel Glaser

20/08/2017 Daniel Glaser 0

The neuroscience connecting skin receptors to the brain is far from straightforward, says Daniel Glaser

Sunburn continues to colour many of our experiences of the summer. Even as it draws to a close we can still get caught out.

We are all familiar with the effects, and the warnings, but what’s going on in your nervous system is more interesting than you may think. The term itself is slightly misleading. When we feel our skin burning after we’ve been in the sun for too long, our brain is actually being fooled.

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What I’m really thinking: the disappointed counsellor

19/08/2017 Anonymous 0

While in the final year of my training, undertaking a placement in a mental health service, I saw how stretched these support services are

I put four years of my life and £12,000 of my hard-earned savings into training to be a counsellor. I sacrificed my time, relationships and mental health so I could give my all to this exhausting and emotionally draining course, which included spending two years in personal therapy.

While in the final year of my training, undertaking a placement in a mental health service, I was exposed to how stretched these support services are. Despite still being a trainee, I saw clients who were suicidal, psychotic and seeking help for borderline personality disorders. I was not trained to help these clients, but I didn’t have a choice. They had to see me or go back on the waiting list for six months. Staff did their best to support me but they were so stretched, I was left to cope with difficult situations by myself.

Related: What I’m really thinking: the burned-out businessman

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Mother preferred Dr over Miss or Mrs | Brief letters

17/08/2017 Letters 0

Academic titles | Margarets as a dying breed | Big Ben | Girls’ and boys’ clothes | Dogs on escalators

Alison Hackett (Letters, 17 August) complains at the use of “Dr” and “Prof” titles. But they can prove useful. Our mother Anne McLaren (a single parent, and a biologist who, working with mice, created the world’s first IVF birth, and became the first woman officer of the Royal Society in their 300-year history, as foreign secretary and vice-president), was asked, “Is it ‘Miss’ or ‘Mrs’?”. We three kids watched and wondered how she would respond. “No,” she said firmly, “It’s ‘Dr’.”
Prof Jonathan Michie
President, Kellogg College, Oxford

• If the editor wants to fill the letters page with letters from Margarets (Letters, 17 August), she should act soon, as peak Margaret was in 1900 when it was third most popular name for baby girls. When I had come on the scene in the late 1930s it was eighth, and by the time politics became aware of Maggie Thatcher it lingered at 95th. We are a dying breed.
Margaret Squires
St Andrews, Fife

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Severe birth trauma has left me terrified of having another child

17/08/2017 Anonymous 0

Normally associated with soldiers, post-traumatic stress disorder affects 20,000 new mothers in the UK each year

I have revisited the day my daughter was born more times than I can remember. Almost every night since it happened, the trauma I experienced creeps back. Yet the medics involved will not have given that day a fleeting thought. It feels like an insulting paradox, that such a life-changing moment for one person is but an everyday event for another.

My labour didn’t go to plan. I experienced a searing white-hot pain when my drug-free water birth ended in an episiotomy without painkillers. I was terrified when dozens of medical staff rushed back and forth with equipment talking in urgent, hushed tones about a falling heart beat. Above all, I felt powerless, a total loss of control, and that I had no value as I lay naked on my back with strangers’ hands and faces around my exposed groin. As a result, I suffered birth trauma and developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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Out of office: a guide to taking a holiday from your smartphone

17/08/2017 Tanya Goodin 0

The belief that you needed to be connected to the office 24/7 can lead to burnout. An expert explains how business owners can log off on holiday

My “aha” moment came on holiday about five years ago. Despite telling my team that I didn’t want to be disturbed and I wouldn’t be replying to emails, I found myself firing off replies to everything in my inbox. Then came the email marked “urgent”, which said: “Shall we print the phone number in blue or black on the new letterhead?” I knew then that I had a problem.

Related: Stop saying yes to everything: how to set boundaries for your business

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Out of office: a guide to taking a holiday from your smartphone

17/08/2017 Tanya Goodin 0

The belief that you needed to be connected to the office 24/7 can lead to burnout. An expert explains how business owners can log off on holiday

My “aha” moment came on holiday about five years ago. Despite telling my team that I didn’t want to be disturbed and I wouldn’t be replying to emails, I found myself firing off replies to everything in my inbox. Then came the email marked “urgent”, which said: “Shall we print the phone number in blue or black on the new letterhead?” I knew then that I had a problem.

Related: Stop saying yes to everything: how to set boundaries for your business

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Wax on, wax ouch: pubic grooming has a high injury rate, survey reveals

16/08/2017 Nicola Davis 0

A quarter of those who groom their pubic hair have suffered mishaps from cuts to burns and rashes – some requiring medical help – researchers have found

Whether it’s shaving, waxing or laser hair removal, pubic grooming has become commonplace – but more than a quarter of those who remove hair have met with mishap in the process, research has revealed.

The study found that 76% of US adults quizzed said they removed some or all of their pubic hair, with almost 26% of those who groomed reporting that they had sustained at least one injury while doing so, ranging from cuts to burns and rashes.

Related: The disturbing truth about how we treat our pubic hair | Mona Chalabi

Related: We made a film to get women talking about their pubic hair. Here’s why

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From standup comedy classes to free massages – wellness at work goes mainstream

16/08/2017 Louise Tickle 0

It’s not just corporate giants like Google that run impressive wellbeing schemes. Smaller businesses are coming up with innovative ways to keep staff happy

When it comes to looking after people’s health and wellbeing in the workplace a complimentary bowl of fruit no longer cuts it. The corporate wellness industry is worth over $40bn (£31m) worldwide according to the Global Wellness Institute with companies looking after their workers’ wellbeing in a much more holistic way.

Related: Wellness in the workplace: how health initiatives can boost staff productivity

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From burgers to breaded mackerel: how Croydon is fighting the fat

15/08/2017 Nicola Slawson 0

On one of London’s unhealthiest high streets one in four children is obese, but now the council has stepped in

The high street in New Addington, south Croydon is one of the unhealthiest in London. Dotted between a launderette and a betting agent on a small curved parade are 10 fast food takeaways. There will soon be 11.

In the borough of Croydon there are 424 fast food shops, which predominantly sell calorific and unhealthy food such as fried chicken and burgers, according to data released by Public Health England last year. It has the second highest amount in London, after Westminster.

Related: The game improving a community’s health without them noticing

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It’s too late for my son, but the end of the campaign for ‘normal birth’ is welcome | James Titcombe

14/08/2017 James Titcombe 0

The Royal College of Midwives has abandoned the ideology that over the years may have contributed to many deaths, including that of my son

The decision by the Royal College of Midwives to withdraw its decade-long campaign for “normal birth” has come much too late for my own son, Joshua, who sadly died nine days after being born, but is a welcome step. The approach for too long influenced a style of care in maternity wards that put lives at risk.

These were the words spoken by Cumbria coroner Ian Smith, as he began summing up the inquest into the death of Joshua, on 6 June 2011: “With advances in medical science and techniques, childbirth has become safer and safer, to the point where we now expect children to be delivered safely. Now, I will have to say in truth, the process is a highly dangerous event, and you could make a glib remark that the most dangerous day of anybody’s life is their first day of life.”

Related: The Observer view on best medical practice for pregnant women | Observer editorial

Coroner Ian Smith was right in the comments he made in 2011; the most dangerous day of our lives is the day we are born

Related: More nurses and midwives leaving UK profession than joining, figures reveal

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Cancer treatment: sorting the good news from the hype

14/08/2017 Naomi Elster 0

The newspapers love a cancer research story, but many are misleading or won’t affect patients for many years. But there is plenty of progress worth reporting

Every news story about cancer research should come with a health warning: believe the hope, but not the hype. Good headlines are quick and catchy, good science is steady steps taken on a complicated issue over a long time. If a new treatment is still being researched, it could be metaphorical miles and actual years away from getting into the hands or bodies of patients. As blogger Kay Curtin, who has advanced melanoma, puts it: “The media tend to pick one line on a report and run with it, but they do not draw attention or highlight that it’s just a potential benefit, or the fact that many of these are just proven in a petri dish or a mouse and very often do not prove effective when tested on humans. It is cruel to existing patients to make claims with misleading headlines.”

One of the best ways to deal with cancer is to divide and conquer, based on as much knowledge as we can get of how individual tumours work. Treating all cancers from the same part of the body equally isn’t good enough – you must match the right patient with the right treatment.

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How running saved me from boozy lunches and obesity

14/08/2017 Nick Cohen 0

When the Observer columnist first went out for a run he hobbled home, only managing 200 metres. Four years later, running is a liberation …Four years ago, I put on what I used to call my gym kit and went for my first run in decades. Two hundred metre…

How eagle-eyed archers hit the target

13/08/2017 Dan Glaser 0

First, learn how to deliberately slow your heart through conscious will

The Glorious 12th, that archaic celebration that marks the start of the grouse shooting season, is upon us. Whatever we think about it, the skill itself is of interest to neuroscientists. Marksmanship depends on exquisite coordination between eye and hand, and while left- or right-handedness is well established, it is less known that you have a dominant eye, too. Test this by looking at a small, distant object. Point at it then follow your finger with your eyes. Close one, then another. You’ll discover your finger only lines up with your dominant eye.

True marksmen use biofeedback (gaining control over normally involuntary functions) to keep their hand steady, learning to deliberately slow their heart through conscious will to reduce the variability in their shooting.

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The Observer view on best medical practice for pregnant women | Observer editorial

13/08/2017 Observer leader 0

The ideal birth is the one that is safest for mother and baby

The announcement by the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) on Saturday that it will finally abandon its “normal birth” campaign is overdue but welcome. By promoting “normal” over medical births, the campaign has for too long dangerously implied that a non-medical birth is superior to one in which doctors are involved. Given that we have had firm evidence for more than two years that, in the very worst cases, normal birth ideology has contributed to the tragic and unnecessary deaths of women and babies, the only question is why it has taken the RCM so long to act.

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What I’m really thinking: the woman with breast cancer

12/08/2017 Anonymous 0

I grieve for the family celebrations I may miss, growing older with my husband, having grandchildren

There are days when I’m full of anger and sadness, and other moments when I appreciate the miracle of life. Every gesture, song or conversation now carries a deeper meaning. The intensity of hugging my husband and daughters is often unbearable, and I grieve every day for the life that cancer took away from me.

Stage four cancer sucks optimism, hope and eventually even breath. It’s like being in a very slow but inevitable fatal car crash that you replay in your mind over and over. At first, you try to navigate yourself through oncology terminology, treatments, diagnosis, scans, but later you realise there is no safety belt or steering wheel to hold on to. I have incredible support and love, but I often feel very alone in my thoughts and experiences. I can’t relate to others who have the privilege of good health or the power to improve their situations.

Related: What I’m really thinking: the eldest child

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