Health Diary Week 79: Food, Exercise and a Positive Mind

Sunny Spring

Beautiful blossom and blue sky on one of my walks

Home
<<<Week 78

Hi, welcome to another weekly instalment of what’s on my plate: health updates, meal creations and smile-provoking experiences.

Covid Adminstrator shifts – yay!

I was concerned that I hadn’t heard back about starting my role as “Covid Administrator” despite chasing it up. So, I was talking to my parents about how I was going to consider other NHS temp bank positions, when I received a phone call to obtain my availability for shifts at the vaccine centre – how exciting! I’m going to work three days per week for now, starting next week (at time of writing, this week!). I’ll let you know how it goes in my next post.

Histamine update

It was a rough week with the histamine issues. I suspect the high tree pollen count contributed to the problem. The symptoms (cold-like) gradually worsened throughout the week and by Thursday (after my morning walk) I was completely floored for the rest of the day. I’m worried about how I will cope at work if I can’t control these symptoms. How can I possibly not appear scarily germy and manage to wear a mask all day?

So, I completed another e-Consult Doctor’s form requesting referral to an Immunology Clinic and asking if I could try mast cell stabilisers (to calm down the cells that release histamine) – I’ve started wondering whether my issue is more to do with over-active mast cells, rather than a histamine intolerance (a problem with the enzymes that break down histamine). I need professional medical help to figure this out. In the meantime, I’m being extra careful again about minimising histamine food risks:

Some of my low histamine meals this week. Clockwise: Pasta salad. Veg and seed rice. Veg and seed noodles. Fennel steaks with homemade chips and notomato sauce

Exercise: Walking rewards

I was really pleased with myself for going out walking every day this week, despite feeling unwell. “Active 10” recognised my efforts and gave me three rewards this week: “1,000 Club” for reaching over 1,000 minutes brisk walking since I first downloaded the app, “High Five” for five out of seven days brisk walking (I achieved seven days) and “Perfect Week” for hitting my brisk walking target everyday – go me! But, I still gained a pound (0.45 kg) in weight – it doesn’t seem fair:

My Active 10 rewards and week’s walking record. Clockwise: Perfect Week. High Five. My week’s walks. 1,000 Club

Food creation: Baked oats

I had to give the baked porridge oats another try (details here), of course with a few improvements. This time I added blueberries, as well as the fresh apple and black cherry jam (I’d also meant to add quinoa flakes, but completely forgot!). And, after baking I added a drizzle of macadamia nut butter – absolutely delicious!:

Food creation: Baked oats with blueberry, apple, black cherry jam and a macadamia nut butter drizzle

Food creation: Egg-free ‘omelette’

It’s been a while since I’ve made one of my ‘omelettes’ for lunch, so I decided it was about time I made one again. (Okay, so this wasn’t actually an omelette, but I don’t know what else to call it, so ‘omelette’ will have to suffice for now). The base was a mix of cornmeal and quinoa flakes, whilst the filling was yellow pepper, courgette/zucchini and seeds. I got a bit carried away with the seed topping! I had three portions leftover to freeze – bonus. The omelette accompanied my usual salad (I need to write a post sometime about my new typical salad since being on a low histamine diet):

My egg-free ‘omelette’ creation, accompanied by my new typical salad

Positive Thinking: What Made Watson Smile

It’s been a good week, if we ignore the histamine issues. We had glorious sunshine culminating in lots of outside time, including socialising with friends…

Socials and a kitten:

My social week included a lovely online catch up with Marjory, whilst I was sat outside bird watching and enjoying the sunshine. Also, I visited Tina and Ben and enjoyed a chat in their sunny garden spot – so nice to see friends in real life. And, I walked up to Bevy and Harry’s to meet Loki, their new, adorable Maine Coon kitten (and socialise with Bevy, and Harry of course):

Kitten cuteness. Top right: Loki, the Maine Coon, when he first arrived home. Other pics: Loki now. Awww – cute, cute, cute!

Dragonfly visitor:

A dragonfly landed on me while I was quietly sat reading in the garden. I love dragonflies:

Dragonfly. Image: Tanuj Handa, Pixabay

Cactus corner:

I was admiring the new cactus corner in the conservatory, when I noticed that my real-life cactus plant was flowering – I’ve had that cactus for years – it’s the only one that survived from a set of four. I was also impressed by Mum’s latest ‘repair shop’ work on my fake cacti – I wish there was a before-and-after photo, because Mum did such a good job of livening them back up with a bit of skilful painting and adding decorative flowers:

Cactus corner. My real-life flowering cactus and Mum’s cacti repair work

The case of mistaken identity:

I finally realised that my neighbour’s cat, “Not Molly” is in fact “Molly”. I was concerned that Molly was no longer coming to visit, and her elusive brother was visiting instead. But when I was discussing this with my parents, my Dad, said “Are you sure this isn’t Molly?”. I was convinced it wasn’t Molly, because this one had a moustache. But then I looked back through my photos and realised Molly did indeed have a moustache and was clearly the same cat – how could I not have noticed the moustache before? I felt so silly, but also relieved Molly is okay:

Cat confusion:“Not Molly” is “Molly”

I hope you enjoyed this week’s ‘What’s on Watson’s Plate’. Please feel free to follow my bite-sized updates on Instagram or Facebook. See you next week for another catch up.

>>>Week 80
<<<Week 78
Home

More from What’s on Watson’s Plate

Health Diary Week 78: Food, Exercise and a Positive Mind

Just a Quickie

Speedy snail. Image: Clker-Free-Vector-Images, Pixabay

Home
<<<Week 77

Hi, welcome to another weekly instalment of what’s on my plate: health updates, meal creations and smile-provoking experiences.

It’s been a fairly quiet week overall and I’ve been struggling with histamine issues (more on that in next week’s post), so this will be a bit of a quickie.

Antihistamine progress: Loratadine

I’ve started on 10 mg per day of Loratadine antihistamine solution[1]. I was previously taking 10 mg twice per day of Cetirizine solution[2] to keep my symptoms relatively under control (this was double the advised dose – not recommend without your Doctor’s approval). The new medication hasn’t been an easy adjustment, if you can even call it that. I’ve felt fatigued, itchy, snotty and sneezy all week – incredibly uncomfortable. I’m going to give it another week before I report back to my Doctor and explore other options. I’m starting to suspect my issue might be that my histamine-releasing cells (mast cells) are over-active, rather than my previous assumption that it’s my body having an issue breaking down histamine (an enzyme dysfunction). It would be great if I could be referred to an immunological clinic, so that they can figure it out for me.

Food Re-purpose: Pasta bakeCauliflower and broccoli ‘cheese’

Last week Mum made a delicious cauliflower and broccoli ‘cheese’, which she served up with roast potato and sweet potato. I froze the leftovers for another day – I love it when there’s leftovers! I decided to re-purpose the cauliflower and broccoli ‘cheese’ into a pasta bake for a simple, low effort, tasty meal:

Cauliflower and broccoli ‘cheese’. Top: My re-purposed cauliflower and broccoli ‘cheese’ pasta bake. Bottom: Mum’s cauliflower and broccoli ‘cheese’ with roast potato and sweet potato

Food: New buy – Quinoa flakes

Someone on Instagram recommended quinoa flakes as a “game changer” ingredient if you’re not keen on quinoa, so of course I had to get me some to try. Apparently, they can be used as a breakfast cereal, porridge oats replacement or in baking. I haven’t tried them yet, but I’ll let you know how it goes when I do:

BioFair quinoa flakes

Positive Thinking: What Made Watson Smile

Here’s a few positives from my week:

Every step counts no matter how small:

I hadn’t felt like I achieved much health-wise recently due to my histamine issues holding me back. But I’m happy to have made a little step forward: I realised that I don’t need to add sugar to my chicory (coffee replacement) drink – I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to realise this! Any improvement, as small as it may be, is better than giving up, or falling back into unhealthy habits. So, I’m giving myself a little pat on the back for reducing my ‘free sugar’ intake a little:

The ‘pat on the back’ image Pixabay offered me (Graphics@ HandiHow)

Friends in real life:

I was excited to meet up with Bevy in person, especially as we missed last week, for a good ole catch up on the driveway:

Dad’s pretty flowers along the driveway

Choir practice:

I joined a choir! For those of you who know me, this is a big deal. I don’t sing in front of people – it’s one of my fears. This started at Junior school (I must have been around 10 years old) after the music teacher stopped the whole class saying that someone was singing out of tune and everyone pointed at me. After that I just mimed. I used to love singing before this incident. Anyway, my friend, Dawn, encouraged me to attend the online long covid choir (and explained you can mute yourself). So, I thought why not give it a try? I’m so glad I did. Zoe (the teacher) had such a friendly smiley face and was really encouraging. I liked the breathing exercises and explanations of how to sing particular notes. It was fun, so I’ll be returning next week for more:

Heartfelt Choir. I joined a choir!

Happy Birthday to me, again:

My Mum found a Birthday present she’d put away ‘safely’ for me. My Birthday was back in February. I was given a bamboo comb, which I was on the verge of buying myself, so I’m glad I hadn’t got around to purchasing one yet. It was a lovely surprise receiving an unexpected late Birthday present:

Happy Birthday to me. My belated bamboo comb Birthday present from my Mum

I hope you enjoyed this week’s ‘What’s on Watson’s Plate’. Please feel free to follow my bite-sized updates on Instagram or Facebook. See you next week for another catch up.

>>>Week 79
<<<Week 77
Home

References

1. National Health Service, 2018. Loratadine (including Clarityn).

2. National Health Service, 2018. Cetirizine.

More from What’s on Watson’s Plate

Health Diary Week 77: Food, Exercise and a Positive Mind

Katey in the Kitchen

My What’s on Watson’s Plate Avatar

Home
<<<Week 76

Hi, welcome to another weekly instalment of what’s on my plate: health updates, meal creations and smile-provoking experiences.

Antihistamines: Acrivastine versus Loratadine

In Week 75, I updated that my Doctor had said I could choose between the antihistamines Acrivastine (brand name Benadryl)[1] and Loratadine (brand name Clarityn)[2]. So, naturally I undertook a bit of research to decide between the two options. The main findings of interest to me were:

My Acrivastine versus Loratadine research summary table

I decided Loratadine was my best option. Acrivastine is another of those antihistamines containing a high histamine food colouring (I really don’t get the deal with this!) –  Quinoline yellow (E104): “Very poorly tolerated, severe symptoms” and a “histamine liberator”[5]. The pharmacist confirmed that tablets for both Loratadine and Acrivastine contain lactose (which I have issue with), but you can get Loratadine solution (doesn’t contain lactose) on prescription. I just hope the other ingredients are okay, as I couldn’t find details for this. I was concerned that a common side effect of Acrivastine was sleep difficulties[1] – when I caught Covid (March 2020, read my Covid story here) I had 180 days of insomnia (which also messed with my mental health), so the possibility of going through anything like that again was hugely off-putting. I’ll let you know how I get on with Loratadine.

Side note: I should also mention that I asked the pharmacist whether all Fexofenadine (a stronger antihistamine) contained Allura Red/E129 (a high histamine food colouring) – apparently it does, so that’s definitely off the cards.

Exercise

I’ve been feeling too fatigued these past few weeks to exercise much. So, I was pleased with myself for completing three short walks this week, totalling 98 minutes, of which 54 minutes were brisk. Here’s hoping I can be more active soon. If I can, it will help towards losing the extra weight I’ve gained this week – I’ll tell you how much another time:

Exercise: Walking. Right: Pretty scene spotted on one of my walks. Left: My Active10 record

Food creation: Baked oats

Instagram has been trending with baked oats recipes these past couple of weeks, so of course I thought I should try them (details here). What I loved about this meal is that you just throw it all in an oven proof dish and pop it in the oven, leaving you to get on and do other things while its baking. It was tasty, so I’ll be having it again for sure, maybe with blueberries next time instead of apple and I’ll add in some macadamia butter – yum!:

Baked oats: Apple, black cherry jam, chia seeds, flax seeds, maple syrup and sweet cinnamon

Food creation: Vegetable and seed noodles

I rediscovered my love of King Soba noodles. I made a delicious meal of pumpkin and ginger noodles, notomato sauce, vegetable and seed mix and vegan feta – my mouth is watering just thinking about it! – details here. Vegan feta is a histamine risk, but one I’m willing to take occasionally:

Vegetable noodles: King Soba pumpkin and ginger noodles topped with notomato sauce, vegetable and seed mix and Violife feta ‘cheese’

Food creation: Risotto burgers

I had another attempt at my butternut squash risotto burgers. This time I added more binder (chia seed ‘egg’) and made up the burgers pre-freezing the risotto. The risotto itself was great and getting eight burgers from the leftovers was brilliant (details here) – lots to freeze for a low energy day:

From this tasty butternut squash risotto:

Butternut squash risotto

To these butternut squash risotto burgers:

Butternut squash risotto burgers. Clockwise: Risotto burger in a pitta with salad. Cooked risotto burger. Chia seed ‘egg’ ready to be stirred into risotto. Pre-cooked risotto burger

Positive Thinking: What Made Watson Smile

I had a pretty good week. Here’s some of my smile-provoking experiences:

Messy cooking:

I’m a messy cook – I claim its due to the dyspraxia. I got into such a mess making my risotto burgers, including my hands becoming well coated in burger mix. And when I was tidying up, I misjudged returning the flaxseeds to their shelf and they fell off, spilling over the floor. My parents are so used to these occurrences; Dad didn’t take any notice and Mum walked in calmly to see what had happened this time. I love that we just accept these little incidents as part of everyday life. And the seeds didn’t go to waste – I deposited them on the bird feeder for our little friends:

Messy cook. Clockwise: My hands during burger making. Flaxseed spillage (I think the birds were happy with the edition to the bird table). Burgers batch cooked and packed for freezing. Burgers pre-cooked, ready for freezing

Popping corn:

Talking of mishaps. I was staying at the rental property which is lacking cooking facilities and was feeling a little peckish. So, I decided to try out my new popcorn maker for the first time. The instruction manual said I needed a big bowl, but I didn’t have one, so I thought two small bowls would suffice. How wrong I was! Firstly, I wasn’t prepared for the amount of popcorn such a small number of kernels produce. Secondly, they came flying out of the popcorn maker at speed, bouncing off me while I was trying to catch them in my too small bowl. I wish I’d filmed it. I was yelling “No, no no!” at the machine while trying to contain the situation. Hilarious!:

Popcorn making: My first attempt with my popcorn maker and subsequent mess (this was after I’d cleared up a bit)

Long Covid research:

I attended the Royal Society’sLong Covid: an unfolding story” Q&A session, which was both informative and supportive. It was encouraging that two of the speakers had the lived experience of Long Covid: Dr Nisreen Alwan (Associate Professor in Public Health, University of Southampton), and Dr Adam Rutherford (geneticist, author, and presenter of BBC’s Radio 4’s Inside Science). I was most pleased to hear that there’s loads of research being undertaken, so hopefully it won’t be too long before we get more answers. I particularly want to hear more about the link with histamine issues:  

The Royal Society – Long Covid: an unfolding story. Left: My Q&A session questions that never got past review stage (I really wanted to hear about their hypotheses around histamine issues and mitochondria dysfunction – maybe another time)

Cherish each moment:

Do you remember that beautiful white blossom tree I shared with you in Week 75? Well, we had a couple of nights frost and all that beautiful blossom was destroyed. You might ask why this might make me smile? Of course I was disappointed about the blossom disappearance, but I was pleased that I had taken the time previously to enjoy the beauty when I first saw it. It reminded me that we need to cherish each moment, as we don’t know how long they will last or what’s around the corner:

Cherish each moment. Left: Beautiful white blossom tree, Week 75. Right: The same tree after a frost, Week 77

“Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.”

Betty Smith, American novelist and playwright

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”

Alice Morse Earle, American writer and antiquarian

I hope you enjoyed this week’s ‘What’s on Watson’s Plate’. Please feel free to follow my bite-sized updates on Instagram or Facebook. See you next week for another catch up.

>>>Week 78
<<<Week 76
Home

References

1. National Health Service, 2018. Acrivastine.
2. National Health Service, 2018. Loratadine (including Clarityn).
3. Drugs.com, 2021. Acrivastine and Pseudoephedrine.
4. Drugs.com, 2021. Loratadine.
5. Swiss Interest Group Histamine Intolerance, 2016. Food Compatibility List.

More from What’s on Watson’s Plate

Health Diary Week 76: Food, Exercise and a Positive Mind

Let’s Concentrate on the Smiles

Smiling Sun. Image: Clker-Free-Vector-Images (Pixabay)

Home
<<<Week 75

Hi, welcome to another weekly instalment of what’s on my plate: health updates, meal creations and smile-provoking experiences. This post is briefer than usual, because I’m feeling kind of exhausted and not much happened really. Don’t worry, this isn’t a reflection on my state of mind – overall I’m feeling pretty happy and that’s going to be my main focus here, after the histamine update.

Histamine overload

I must confess I’ve been lax these past couple of weeks about managing my low histamine diet. I’ve taken little risk after little risk, gradually building up to toxic histamine levels in my system. I need to get motivated to get back on track somehow, because I’m experiencing the fatigue now, along with rhinitis – it doesn’t feel, look or sound good! Surely that’s motivation enough?!

Food creation: Potato bowl

Thankfully potatoes are okay on this low histamine diet, which is great, because I absolutely love potatoes – I can’t imagine not having them in my life. (Having said that, I used to say this about tomatoes and avocadoes, which I can’t eat these days, but I haven’t actually missed them that much). Anyway, one evening I decided I just fancied a bowl of potatoes for dinner. Of course, I wanted an interesting bowl of potatoes, so I concocted a vegetable, seed, spice and herb mix before baking them in the oven (details here). I have to say, the result was an incredibly deliciously satisfying dish:

My potato bowl creation – so tasty!

Positive Thinking: What Made Watson Smile

Despite this being a shorter than usual post, I still wanted to share some of my positive moments with you, because not only does the reminiscing make me smile, so does the thought it might make someone else smile too:

Street party?:

I decided to take the opportunity to spend some quiet time at my parents’ former rental property before the sale completes. Well, you can imagine my surprise when I was confronted with a street party directly in front of their house (especially after joking with my Mum that this would happen – I didn’t actually think it would). I declined the offer to join the gathering, after all, no more than six people from different households should be meeting outside. I’m quite proud of myself really, because I miss socialising with groups of people, but I also know there will be a safer time to do this:

My sister and I dressed for a street party, 70’s fancy dress style (I’m the little one)

Friends in real life:

So, instead of group gatherings, I took the opportunity to meet a couple of friends outside, now that we can. And how lovely it was to meet friends in person. Sadly, I missed seeing Bevy – hopefully next week. But it brought me great joy to visit Tina’s garden for a proper catch up, whilst enjoying the sunshine warming my face. Actually, upon my arrival, Tina noted I already had a suntan – this was from sitting outside during the glorious Summer-like days earlier in the week:

My somewhat dazed, slightly sunkissed (or pink) face

Pretty flowers:

Talking about sitting in the sunshine. I’ve been keeping an eye on this particular flowerpot when my parents and I sit out the front of the house for coffee (chicory for me). I’ve enjoyed observing the flowers develop over the weeks – aren’t they just so pretty?:

Dad’s pretty flowers. Clockwise: In full bloom, Week 76. Pretty flower that didn’t survive past Week 75 (something ate it!). Flowers not quite in bloom, Week 75. Close ups of flowers waiting to open, Week 75

“Not Molly’s” disapproval:

The boy cat from behind our house, who I call “Not Molly” (because his sister is called Molly and I have no idea what his name is) has become a regular visitor to our driveway. He’s very cautious of us, so when we arrived home from Tina’s house, he sat staring at us disapprovingly from behind our garden gate, almost as if he thought we shouldn’t be there:

“Not Molly” staring at us disapprovingly from behind out garden gate (hmmm, the windscreen needs a good clean)

 Boojagrams:

I love a good quote. One of my favourite things about opening a box of Booja-Booja chocolate truffles (other than the chocolate, of course) is reading the Boojagram. This lockdown has provided a lot of time for self-reflection, which led me to decide some time ago to just be me and not worry so much about what others think about me. So, I felt this message was quite apt:

“Maybe a good way of changing the world is being you”.

Mister Booja-Booja
Mister Booja-Booja Boojagram No. 62: “Maybe a good way of changing the world is being you”. (Excuse my poor attempt to neatly remove the quote from the box)

I hope you enjoyed this week’s ‘What’s on Watson’s Plate’. Please feel free to follow my bite-sized updates on Instagram or Facebook. See you next week for another catch up.

>>>Week 77
<<<Week 75
Home

More from What’s on Watson’s Plate

Health Diary Week 75: Food, Exercise and a Positive Mind

My Medical Week

I got a Covid vaccine sticker – like when I went to the dentist as a kid

Home
<<<Week 74

Hi, welcome to another weekly instalment of what’s on my plate: health updates, meal creations and smile-provoking experiences.

Covid vaccine and my side effects

Excitingly, I had my first Covid vaccine, at the centre I should be working in soon (no updates yet about when I’m starting). And I must say, it was well organised – efficient, yet friendly. I was given the AstraZeneca vaccine[1] – the one where concerns were raised about strokes as a possible rare side effect. Personally, I’d rather take the much smaller risk of a stroke than the much larger likelihood of contracting covid and its nasty complications. I mean, have you seen the potential side effects from taking paracetamol?![2]. Interestingly, all I found about this stroke complication (that wasn’t just a media news report) was a science article[3] linking to a research paper based on only nine patients (not yet peer reviewed)[4] with an Editorial note advising that the researchers work for Pfizer – massive potential for bias!: “The authors disclose conflicts of interest, including personal fees from Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies”[4]. They also state “At the time of this posting, the World Health Organization maintains that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh its risks and recommends that vaccinations continue”[4].

So, what happened to me? I had my vaccine at 9.30 am (it just felt like someone touched my arm – easy peasy). At 6.30 pm I started getting shivery – I checked my temperature and it was 36.6o Celsius (C), within the normal range (35.7 – 37.3 o C, 96.3 – 99.1o Fahrenheit (F)). After dinner, I had gut ache and felt a bit nauseous for a couple of hours. I became increasingly shivery and by 8.30 pm I had a low-grade fever of 38.5o C (101.3o F). I took some paracetamol and gradually my temperature and shivering decreased. I became incredibly hot for a while and had a headache. By the morning my temperature had returned to normal, although I needed to take more paracetamol for my headache, but this soon eased up. My most surprising symptom started about the same time as the shivers; I developed pins and needles, and numbness in my right-hand fingers (the arm I chose to have vaccinated as it was already injured) – the information leaflet stated this occurred where there was already nerve inflammation – I guess that makes sense. The next day and onwards, I’ve just had a sore, achy arm. Overall, a small price to pay to hopefully avoid catching Covid-19 (again).

Covid vaccine card (1st dose completed) and new staff ID card (“Covid Administrator” sounds like I’m actually dishing out Covid!)

Clicking jaw

I had dentist check-up and hygienist appointments this week. It feels so weird going inside a building, removing my mask and having someone poke around inside my mouth, when the rest of time I’m being so cautious. I’m pleased to report no fillings were required and my gums were okay. But I have a clicking jaw on my left side (probably a hypermobility thing) – the dentist checks it each visit, but this time, she noted an issue with a “heavy bite” on my right side that could be making it worse, so she wanted to do some research and get back to me. Later that afternoon she phoned and advised the “heavy bite” could be impacting the bone healing from where I’d had an extra tooth removed (right side), so they want to shave it down to reduce the pressure and it may also relieve the clicking – so that’s happening next month.

Antihistamines continued

I had another phone Doctor’s appointment to reassess the histamine intolerance. We agreed the Fexofenadine wasn’t going to work if all formulas contained Allura Red (E129), so I offered to contact the pharmacist and ask about this. We briefly discussed first generation antihistamines as an option, but I’m not keen on these, because they cause drowsiness and I’m unsure about potential long-term neurological health effects[5]. We discussed trying the other second generation options, Loratadine and Acrivastine, although weaker than Fexofenadin. There didn’t seem much difference between them, so I was told I could investigate and choose which I wanted – I’ll let you know what I decide and the outcome.

Food challenges: Excessive risks were taken

I took some excessive risks this week. I went overboard on the Quorn vegan ham and Sainsbury’s free from grated ‘cheddar cheese’. I hadn’t realised until looking back while writing this post that I’d eaten these foods three times in one week (that’s too much). Also, I’d avoided looking too closely at the ingredients, until now – they both contain several ingredients incompatible with histamine intolerance. I’ll probably still eat them occasionally, but I need to keep track of how often and how I react. Then of course there was the yeast from the two pittas I ate, also filling up my histamine cup/bucket.

And on Mum’s birthday, I indulged in some chocolate mint ice cream and mango sorbet (both containing risky ingredients) – what was I thinking? Sometimes its so hard to stay on track on this low histamine diet. To be fair, I resisted some of the temptations on offer, but I admit, I’m a little worried about the looming consequences from the foods I caved into.

Food challenges. Clockwise: Quorn vegan ‘ham’ slices in salad pitta. Jacket potato with Quorn ‘ham’ and Sainsbury’s free from ‘cheddar cheese’. Northern Bloc ice cream and Hackney Gelato mango sorbet. Quorn vegan ‘ham’ and Sainsbury’s free from ‘cheddar cheese’ pitta

Food creation: Quinoa and brown rice vegetable burgers

For months now, I’ve been meaning to attempt making burgers with a quinoa base, to get more of this great plant protein in my diet, despite not being keen on the stuff. My first attempt went well (details here), but I need to make a few tweaks for next time. I definitely need to add more chia and flax seed binder and maybe chop the veg smaller to hold the burger together better. The flavour was decent, but next time I’ll rinse the quinoa more before cooking to remove any bitterness (thanks for the tip Deb):

Food creation: Quinoa and brown rice vegetable burgers. Clockwise: Making the patties. Pre-cooked burger. My messy hands! Cooked burgers ready for freezing
My dinner: Quinoa and brown rice vegetable burger with roast potatoes, celeriac, fennel, bell peppers and courgette/zucchini

Positive Thinking: What Made Watson Smile

What made me smile this week? Quite a few things. Here’s a few…

A walk in the park:

I went out for two walks this week before I succumbed to post-vaccine tiredness and took it easy for the rest of the week. I walked through a park and noticed a tree full of white blossom – such a contrast compared to its surrounding bare trees. I actually saw this last week too, but I couldn’t get a picture (without looking dodgy) as there was a cute couple sat under the tree kissing:

Walk in the park. Clockwise: Blossomy tree from afar. Closer. My shadow. Blossom close-up

From sunrise to sunset:

I just love a sunrise or sunset (although its rare I’m awake for sunrises). This week I was treated to both. Such beautiful colours. My favourites are those over the ocean (whilst sipping on a cocktail) – maybe I’ll get to see one again (and have a cocktail) in the not-too-distant future:

Left: Sunrise. Right: Sunset. Both beautiful in their own ways

Low histamine wine:

Instagram can be a useful resource (and a source of procrastination). I was excited and delighted to find that low histamine wines exist – I think the one below only supplies to Austria and Germany. But when I shared the post in the Long haul Covid food Facebook group, someone else found a company in the UK – yippee! And, then I stumbled across wine wands, which apparently filter the histamine out of your drink. I’ll be looking into these further – they’re not a complete solution as the actual alcohol itself encourages your mast cells to release histamine, but I’ll take it as hope for an occasional tipple further down the line:

Low histamine wine options – woo hoo hoo! Left: Low histamine wine (source: bioweingut.weiss, Instagram). Right: Wine wands (source: Lowhistamineeats, Instagram)

An abundance of Italian herb seasoning:

I like to have a mix of dried herbs to easily flavour my meals. I had asked Mum (who places the online grocery orders) to order some more Italian herb seasoning. It turns out she got a little carried away and ordered six lots! Apparently my usual one (M&S) said out of stock, so Mum ordered alternatives and both came, but that still leaves the random one in the middle. Unfortunately, I can only use the M&S ones as the others contain black pepper. We did laugh at Mum’s surprise excessiveness:

Over-ordering Italian herb seasoning

I hope you enjoyed this week’s ‘What’s on Watson’s Plate’. Please feel free to follow my bite-sized updates on Instagram or Facebook. See you next week for another catch up.

>>>Week 76
<<<Week 74
Home

References

1. GOV.UK, 2021. Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency: Information for UK recipients on COVID 19 Vaccine AstraZeneca.
2. Drugs.com, 2021. Paracetamol Side Effects.
3. American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2021. A rare clotting disorder may cloud the world’s hopes for AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine.
4. Greinacher, A., Thiele, T., Warkentin, T. E., Weisser, K., Kyrle, P. and Eichinger, S. 2021. A Prothrombotic Thrombocytopenic Disorder Resembling Heparin-Induced Thrombocytopenia Following Coronavirus-19 Vaccination. Research Square.
5. Coupland, C. A. C, Hill, T., Dening, T., Morriss, R., Moore, M. and Hippisley-Cox, J., 2019. Anticholinergic Drug Exposure and the Risk of Dementia – A Nested Case-Control Study. JAMA Internal Medicine, 179 (8), 1084-1093.

More from What’s on Watson’s Plate

Health Diary Week 74: Food, Exercise and a Positive Mind

Blossom

Tree blossom

Home
<<<Week 73

Hi, welcome to another weekly instalment of what’s on my plate: health updates, meal creations and smile-provoking experiences. Okay, I’ll start with the job stuff…

Psychometric assessment

I received an email on Monday to undergo online assessments for the NHS Graduate Management Trainee job I applied for. I’m not a fan of being assessed, especially in timed circumstances, because I have a slower reading and processing speed due to my Dyspraxia[1]. At university, I received extra time for exams to provide a more level playing field, but I felt uncomfortable asking for this under these circumstances, despite declaring a disability on my application.

There were two parts to the assessment; the first was to check if your personality fit with the NHS and management, consisting of statements on a Likert scale from “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree” – this was okay. But then there were the timed, four minutes per section assessments: Verbal reasoning (24 questions), numerical skills (16 questions) and abstract thinking (10 questions). I ran out of time on each part and completely messed up the numerical questions, despite being capable of answering them. I decided I had to just congratulate myself for trying and draw a line under that experience.

Covid Vaccine Centre

I completed the mandatory training and online DBS (criminal record check) for my temporary, bank admin job in a Covid vaccine centre. I received an email back from the lovely admin person, advising I should be able to start work next week – Yay! – I can’t wait to work again.

The Administrator also advised that once I receive the welcome letter, I can book my COVID vaccination – fabulous news – such a relief, especially with the expected slow-down of UK vaccine availability during April (supply issues) and potential restriction of exports to the UK by the EU to enable them to catch up on their programmes. The government reported that despite this slow-down, they still aim to offer the vaccine to all UK adults by the end of July – I really hope this happens.

Typical meals

I didn’t experiment with making anything new this week and just stuck to my easy go-tos: Oats and/or fruit for breakfast, salads for lunch, and mostly pasta or rice (rice details here) for dinner:

Week 74 meal examples. Clockwise: Porridge oats with blueberries, seeds, sweet cinnamon and maple syrup. Salad with potatoes, cornmeal bites, beetroot and celery

Food challenge: Tofu

My weekly challenge was scrambled tofu (again) because Mum wanted me to make her some and I love it so much and didn’t want to miss out. Previously, I experienced mild rhinitis reactions after having tofu in seeded wraps in Week 68 and Week 70. But the seed wraps contained sunflower seeds, listed as “Incompatible, significant symptoms at usual intake” by the Swiss Interest Group on Histamine Intolerance[2]. So, this time I opted to serve my tofu in a pitta bread with notomato sauce (details here)  – I didn’t have a reaction – excellent! Next time, I think I’ll try it Nana’s spaghetti-style (Week 46) with adaptations of Quorn ‘ham’ slices and notomato sauce – I’m excited:

Food re-introduction challenge. Clockwise: Scrambled tofu in pitta bread. Nana’s spaghetti-style scrambled tofu (Week 46). Scrambled tofu seeded wrap with potato roasties (Week 68). Scrambled tofu, salad leaves and notomato sauce seeded wrap (Week 70).

Freezer food finds

Where would I be without my freezer food saviours? Hungry! I found portions of cauliflower and broccoli ‘cheese’, roast potato, sweet potato and stuffing – I felt like a winner. Sadly, I forgot about them cooking away in the oven and ended up with an overly done dinner, although mostly recoverable – phew!:

Freezer food: Cauliflower and broccoli ‘cheese’, roast potato, sweet potato and stuffing. Clockwise: Frozen. Charred! Plated pre-gravy. Plated with gravy

Exercise

I’m supposed to be doing my twice daily physiotherapy interim exercises while I’m waiting for my actual physio appointment for my shoulder hypermobility injury. I’m ashamed to say I’ve been a bit lax. I’ve done them once most days, but it just hurts so much – I will do better.

I went out for three strolls this week, totalling 162 minutes, of which 89 minutes were brisk walking. It was lovely to have a stroll and chat with my neighbour who I hadn’t seen for ages due to lockdown rules.

Positive Thinking: What Made Watson Smile

And let’s finish off with sharing some of my smile-provokers…

Mandatory training completed:

I was pleased to complete the additional mandatory training courses for my NHS temp admin job, a) because I enjoy learning, and b) so that I can start my role soon – I really want to get back to work now:

NHS mandatory training. Left: Recognising and managing anaphylaxis. Right: Resuscitation – Level 1

Food horrors:

So there I was sat in the cosy warm kitchen, at the little table, happily munching away at my dinner, when suddenly I realised I was literally facing my own food horrors – foods I used to love (tomatoes, satsumas, bananas and avocados) but I can’t eat now because of their high histamine content. I realised I was surprisingly okay with that:

My food horrors – some of my former favourite foods: Tomatoes, satsumas, bananas and avocados

Driveway sun and Spring flowers:

It’s wonderful there’s increasing opportunity to sit out by the driveway pond without being wrapped up in coats, hats, scarves and gloves. And I’m enjoying watching Dad’s potted flowers gradually appear:

My favourite driveway flower photo, so far (it’s actually really small, but so beautiful close up)

Spring is here (again):

We’ve already had the start of Spring from a meteorological perspective (1st March). And on the 20th March, Spring began astronomically[3] – yay! I’m loving noticing more signs of Spring when I’m out walking. So, of course I have to share some of my favourite picture snaps:

Spring is here (again)

I hope you enjoyed this week’s ‘What’s on Watson’s Plate’. Please feel free to follow my bite-sized updates on Instagram or Facebook. See you next week for another catch up.

>>>Week 75
<<<Week 73
Home

References

1. Dyspraxia UK, Ca 2017. What is Dyspraxia?
2.  Swiss Interest Group Histamine Intolerance (SIGHI), 2016. Food Compatibility List.
3. Met Office, 2020. When does spring start?

More from What’s on Watson’s Plate

Health Diary Week 73: Food, Exercise and a Positive Mind

A New Style

Me 60’s style, NYE (2007)

Home
<<<Week 72

Hi, welcome to another weekly instalment of what’s on my plate: health updates, meal creations and smile-provoking experiences.

Job updates

I was unsuccessful for last week’s job interview for admin support in training and education at a local hospice. The feedback was helpful – I was told it was a positive interview and I was very likeable (of course) and highly organised. Where I fell short was needing to give more specific examples of my admin experience – another lesson learnt and stored in my brain for next time. All these job applications and interviews feel a bit like Groundhog Day – I have to keep learning what I did wrong and try to correct it, so that I can move on.

In the meantime, I’m really looking forward to starting my temp admin job when all my checks and mandatory training are completed. I thought I’d completed all my initial training, but then I was emailed with more modules due to training changes for vaccination hub staff.

I felt pretty rough this week (more on this below), so I’d decided to rest up over the weekend. Sadly, this was not to be. One of my friends emailed me a Graduate Management Trainee job on Friday, and said I just had to apply – I agreed. Frustratingly, I realised the closing date was Sunday afternoon (noooo!) – And so there dissolved my planned weekend lazing in bed watching the Six Nations Rugby.

Antihistamine fail and swollen lip

I gave my prescribed antihistamine (Fexofenadine Hydrochloride) another try, despite identifying an ingredient, Allura Red (E129), as incompatible for people with histamine intolerance (Swiss Interest Group[1]). As before, on the third day, I experienced terrible rhinitis, brain fog and fatigue. As a result, I mostly spent Monday and Tuesday in bed feeling rough. I’ll report back to my Doctor and request other options.

I returned to my usual Cetirizine Hydrochloride antihistamine on Tuesday and took a corticosteroid nasal spray (Beclometasone Dipropionate) for a few days to help control my flare up. But then on Wednesday, my bottom lip became sore and swollen for about 24 hours. I don’t know why this swelling happened – it hasn’t happened before. Was it the Fexofenadine? Was it my grapefruit and orange bath gel? I’m unsure, but hopefully it won’t happen again.

Food challenge: Red lentils

My rhinitis was much improved by Thursday. So on Saturday, I decided to try red lentils again, as I was okay last time I ate them (Week 65). Conveniently, I had some dhal and brown rice in the freezer that Mum had previously made. I had a bit of gut discomfort afterwards, but that could just have been because I ate loads of rice – there didn’t appear to be any other adverse reaction – phew:

Red lentil dhal and brown rice – there is rice hidden under the dhal (picture from Week 65, the first time I’d re-introduced lentils)

Food creation: Risotto cakes

I love risotto, but it’s just not the same when reheated from frozen – the result – a stodgier consistency, although still tasty. And then I found a solution – inspired by cookingstefano who shared their risotto omelette creation on Instagram. I figured I could do something similar (without eggs) with my butternut squash risotto leftovers from Week 72. All I did was add some extra flax and chia seeds to my defrosted risotto and formed the risotto into cakes using a ramekin.  I pan fried them in a little rapeseed oil and finished them off baked in the oven – they had a lovely outside crispy crunch. Of course I’m already devising plans on how to improve them next time:

Risotto cakes. Clockwise: cookingstefano risotto omelettes. My risotto cakes from Week 72’s leftover risotto. Stodgy re-heated risotto from freezer (Week 53). My beautiful butternut squash risotto (Week 72)

Freezer food saviours

The freezer has been my saviour since following a low histamine diet. It can be hard cooking from scratch when you’re busy or just plain tired. So, I was relieved to be able to heat up the frozen leftovers from my birthday dinner and enjoy them one night. Another day, I had a half jacket potato filled with courgette, sweetcorn and seeds, which I re-heated and served with some salad – so satisfying. Then there’s batch cooking cornmeal and quinoa flour bites I have with salad lunches – yum. And I’m always grateful for those days I don’t mind chopping loads of veg and then freeze portions to keep it fresh and ready for when I’m cooking up a meal:

Freezer food saviours. Clockwise: Cauliflower ‘cheese’. Jacket potato with salad. Chopped veg. Cornmeal and quinoa flour bites

Positive Thinking: What Made Watson Smile

It was a quiet week, but of course there were some smile-provoking occasions…

It was warm enough to get my legs out:

It was a gorgeously sunny morning on Monday and thankfully the full effects of the rhinitis hadn’t quite set in yet. We had cuppas on the driveway, watching the birds come and go. I even went back inside to put on cropped yoga pants to let part of my legs and feet catch some rays. We saw Ratty, a rather cute looking water rat, swim across the pond. We’re hoping Ratty hasn’t got any family and friends close by:

Me sat in the sunshine, sunning my lower legs and feet

Being checked up on:

It was so lovely that a fellow Admin on one of the Facebook groups, contacted me a couple of times during the week to check how I was doing. Dawn gently suggested I should probably try to find some time to rest and recover from my flare up – she was right. This reminded me I should check in on a few people too, as it can make an important difference to someone:

A relaxing scene. Sunset from the Brecon Beacons, Wales (2012)

My Mum:

My Mum is the best, just saying. It was Mothers’ Day this Sunday, so of course I treated her to a couple of treats: jewellery – silver bee earrings, from Oranges and Lemons (Etsy), and Booja Booja fine de Champagne chocolate truffles. I also made Mum scrambled tofu, but on Monday, because we both forgot I was going to make it for her on Sunday – whoops. I’ll try to be a better daughter for next year’s Mothering Sunday:

Mum, Emma and I (I’m the baby that kind of looks like E.T.)

I hope you enjoyed this week’s new style ‘What’s on Watson’s Plate’. Please feel free to follow my bite-sized updates on Instagram or Facebook. See you next week for another catch up.

>>>Week 74
<<<Week 72
Home

Reference

Swiss Interest Group Histamine Intolerance (SIGHI), 2016. Food Compatibility List.

More from What’s on Watson’s Plate

Health Diary Week 72: Food, Exercise and a Positive Mind

Ch-ch-changes

Home
<<<Week 71

Hi, welcome to another weekly instalment of what’s on my plate: health and nutrition updates and smile-provoking experiences.

What’s New

I just have a couple of updates this week:

I’m changing my blog:

Recently I’ve been thinking about how I can sustain writing my blog when I have less free time with the imminent return to work (which I’m rather excited about). I want to ensure a healthy balance between work, blogging and leisure to best support my overall health.

So what have I decided? Going forward, I feel it’s time to leave the food diary reporting behind – I still need to log possible histamine reaction foods with slow re-introduction of more diversity into my diet, so I will let you know what I’ve introduced successfully (or not). I intend to continue sharing what’s happening in my life and any new food creations or particularly tasty meals, because I do love food. Once a month I’ll report on my health results (e.g. body fat percentage and weight), although my main focus now is promoting an all-round healthy lifestyle. And I will continue sharing smile-provoking experiences – appreciation of the little things in life to boost our resilience and protect our mental health.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about my plans. What would you like to see?

Another job interview:

I had an interview for admin support in training and education at a local hospice, still part of the NHS, but also a charity. I didn’t expect an interview, because one of the essentials was a driving licence – I never learnt to drive due to coordination difficulties (dyspraxia[1]). Anyway, back to the interview. I had to attend in person – all my other interviews were via Zoom – it was a challenge finding a suitable outfit! I did a Word and Excel test first, then faced a panel of three interviewers (from a distance, we were all masked-up). I think it went well and I enjoyed the interaction. I’ll keep you posted.

In the meantime I still have my temporary admin role in a vaccination centre to look forward too.

Food and Nutrition

Let’s start with my nutrition updates and move on to my meal highlights…

Histamine issues:

I suffered for my birthday indulgences last week, on Monday and Tuesday. I was a bit lax and suspect one of the culprits was the cocoa birthday cake. I also had two units of vodka, which I’m sure added to the reaction. I guess my “histamine cup” overflowed.

At the end of the week I started re-trying the prescribed, much stronger antihistamine (fexofenadine hydrochloride). Previously, I stopped taking it after three days, as I ended up with terrible rhinitis, brain fog and fatigue. I discovered the ingredients included Allura Red (E129) – listed by Swiss Interest Group Histamine Intolerance as “incompatible, significant symptoms at usual intake” and “liberators of mast cell mediators (= histamine liberators)”[2] – why, oh why would the manufacturers put this in an antihistamine medication? – It’s just a food dye![3,4]. But I feel I have to persevere and try again to report back the Doctor confidently about its effects – I’ll let you know the outcome.

Covid Symptom Study diet scores:

Last year, I completed a diet survey for the ZOE Covid Symptom Study and this week I received back my results… Interestingly, my diet scores improved during the pandemic (August to September 2020) compared to pre-pandemic (February 2020). My traditional diet score was already good at 11 out of 15 but increased to 12. My gut friendly diet score improved from “satisfactory” to “good” – I’m unsure what I did differently here, because I can’t see my survey answers.

Covid Symptom Study diet scores. Left: Traditional diet score. Right: Gut friendly diet score

I’d love to see how my diet scores have changed now that I’ve had to adopt a low histamine diet (October 2020). I barely eat health-promoting legumes (e.g. beans, pulses) containing fibre and good quality protein – I really hope this can change soon. I rely on brown rice, cereal grains, oats, vegetables and fruit to support my fibre intake – my gut seems pretty happy with this. My protein is mainly sourced through nuts, seeds, rice and quinoa (I need to eat more quinoa) and now occasionally Quorn ‘ham and ‘chicken’ slices. I obtain health-promoting omega-3 essential fats via seeds (e.g. chia, flax and hemp). But I consume way more total fat (thankfully mostly unsaturated) because I rely on rapeseed and flax oils to dress my meals, as I can’t eat tomato or vinegar containing sauces. But on the positive side (score wise), I now have to cook meals from scratch, as I can’t eat convenience foods or most fake meats yet.

Salad lunches:

As you know, I love my salad lunches, whether it’s my usual salad with mixed leaves, a filled pitta bread or pasta salad (great for when I’ve run out of salad leaves, details here):

Salad lunches: Fusilli pasta salad, salad with corn bites and salad and Quorn ‘chicken’ filled pitta

Dinner highlights:

Recently, I’ve struggled with finding the energy and motivation to cook properly. But I did make this rather delicious butternut squash and seed risotto, with portions leftover for other days:

Butternut squash risotto

And, I thoroughly enjoyed a slightly odd dinner incorporating leftover red pepper, courgette (zucchini) & seed fusilli pasta from the night before. I had a craving for ‘cheesy’ garlic, onion and herb bread. So, I ended up throwing it all together in the pitta (details here) – very satisfying:

Pasta and cheesy garlic pitta: Carb-ilicious!

Exercise

I went for three walks this week, totalling 149 minutes, of which 102 minutes were brisk – it’s not much, but it’s better than nothing. I’ve been half-heartedly doing my physio exercises – they hurt – but I will get properly on board, because my intention is to increase my fitness levels as my shoulder gradually improves.  I must get back on the exercise bike again!

Weight, BMI and Fat Results

I didn’t report on my results last week, as my focus was birthday smiles (Week 71) – my weight increased by 1.4 lb (0.6 kg) and remained the same this week. Despite this, my body fat actually reduced last week, by 0.5% but increased a little, by 0.2% this week. I’m okay with this after the recent birthday indulgences:

Week 72 Results: Weight, BMI and Body Fat

Positive Thinking: What Made Watson Smile

For me and meteorologically, Spring starts on the 1st March. This past week I’ve noticed loads of indications of Spring: On my walks (more here), in the garden and by the driveway pond, so naturally this was my happy focus this week …

Signs of Spring:

These are some signs of Spring I spotted whilst out for a stroll:

Signs of Spring: Out walking

Roadside daffodils:

Daffodils are so vibrantly yellow – such a joy to see them springing up alongside the roads when I’m out walking:

Roadside daffodils

Magical flower rings:

There’s something that feels a bit magical about seeing flower rings around the trunk of a tree – it reminds me of fairy tales. And they are pretty too of course:

Magical flower rings around trees: Daffodils and crocuses

The intricate beauty of flowers:

I thought these flower shots were particularly gorgeous:

Intricate beauty of flowers

Dad’s flowers:

And let’s not forget Dad’s driveway flowers – so pretty:

Dad’s driveway flowers

I hope you enjoyed this week’s ‘What’s on Watson’s Plate’. Please feel free to follow my bite-sized updates on Instagram or Facebook. See you next week for another catch up.

>>>Week 73
<<<Week 71
Home

References

1. Dyspraxia Foundation, 2021. Dyspraxia in Adults.
2. Swiss Interest Group Histamine Intolerance (SIGHI), 2016. Food Compatibility List.
3. Food Standards Agency, Ca. 2021. Food additives: Different food additives and advice on regulations and the safety of additives in food.
4. NHS, 2020. Food colours and hyperactivity.

More from What’s on Watson’s Plate

Health Diary Week 71: Food, Exercise and a Positive Mind

My Lockdown Birthday Smiles

Image: Louisa Helfinger (Pixabay)

Home
<<<Week 70

Hi, welcome to another weekly instalment of what’s on my plate… with a twist. It was my birthday week, so I gave myself the week off from focusing on health and nutrition – I mean who wants to think about those things when there’s a special occasion? Instead, I’m sharing my birthday smile-provokers.

What’s New

Okay, so just a couple of non-birthday related updates to share with you first…

Covid vaccine article:

I collated some interesting online expert scientific panels about the UK Covid-19 vaccines. I published my article on Medium (here), as well as sharing it on WordPress (here). The article didn’t attract much interest, but regardless, I’m proud of myself for producing and sharing my writing, so it was worth the effort.

I have a (temporary) job:

Excitingly, I was successful in my application for NHS (bank/temporary) Administrator in a Covid vaccination centre – yay! I had a phone interview, which I think was actually my worst interview to date – funny how things work out. Anyway, I’m looking forward to starting, albeit somewhat nervous. And I’m hoping this experience will provide a better chance at achieving a permanent NHS job in the future.

Okay, let’s move on to the birthday stuff…

Physiotherapy

Hmmm, this doesn’t sound birthday-like, but it was great to have my injury taken seriously. So my birthday started with a video call physiotherapy consultation. After seeing what I could do, the Consultant confirmed I need physiotherapy on my shoulder – it’s going to be a while before I can receive it, because of Covid restrictions. In the meantime, I’m following some set exercises (details here). It feels good to be moving forward with this.

Curry puffs

I’ve always loved Nana’s curry puffs – nowadays they’re reserved for special occasions. I’ve adapted the recipe to a lower histamine version (details here) and made a batch to freeze ready for my birthday (after sneakily eating a few first, of course). I had some curry puffs for my birthday breakfast (odd, I know) and then ate a few over several days, sometimes with salad (they seem more healthy that way) – I’ve still got some left in the freezer:

Birthday curry puffs. Clockwise: Curry puff filling. Cooked curry puffs. Curry puffs with salad

Amusing cards

I love receiving birthday cards and messages. This year I had a few cards that made me chuckle. I’m going to start with a well-meaning message “Try to have a nice birthday even without friends!” – this made me laugh – if it wasn’t lockdown, these words would have a completely different meaning.

And then there was my traditional (since 2007) “pak choi!” message in memory of the time I was in Laos and made a fool of myself. I’d just bought something at the market and in thank you, I placed my hands together, bowed my head and said “pak choi” – I was mortified this came out of my mouth instead of “khob chai”, the actual phrase I’d meant to say.

I loved the scary cute drawing (you’ll figure out which one it was below) drawn by one of my, umm, talented friends – I think it’s probably of me, perhaps drunk or concussed. My friend apologised for her art, but actually I thought it was fantastic. Thank you – you know who you are.

There was a very sweet card to a “dear friend” that I opened the day after my birthday. It turns out it wasn’t for me, but for my Mum whose birthday is a month later:

Birthday card giggles

Birthday haul

I feel very fortunate – I absolutely loved all my gifts. I got more bamboo bedding: pillows and a duvet set – sooo luxurious! And, hypoallergenic and sustainable. I enjoyed watching the pillows slowly expand – yep, simple things. Also, I received my favourite chocolate and 100 chamomile teabags (I think that will keep me going for a while!), an illustrated book created by my sister’s talented friend and a fantastic 3-D printed moon lamp. I had a couple of thoughtful deliveries from friends, including some gorgeous ecological stationary: a beautiful cork case, pen and pencils (containing seeds ready to plant), and a cute soy-wax candle in a jar with a pretty crystal and sparkles:

Birthday haul. Clockwise: Unopened presents. Opened presents. Bamboo expanding pillows. Chamomile tea – lots!

Birthday wrap

My Mum wrapped one of my presents in really gorgeous bird paper and added a pretty bow (upside down – so Watson-like!). And when I unwrapped my gift, I found a pair of scissors along with it – Mum exclaimed she’d been looking for those for ages! And I love that my sister wrapped one of my presents in Christmas paper – the outside was a stripey pattern, so it wasn’t obvious until I unwrapped the gift:

Birthday wrapping. Top: Bird paper with upside down bow. Lost scissors. Christmas paper

Pond life

My birthday was the start of a string of beautifully sunny Spring-like days – such an amazing birthday present. Check out that sunny weather forecast and vibrant blue sky. We sat out by the pond and watched the birds come and go, including our regulars: Mummy Bird and we think, Baby Bird (Week 39 and Week 40):

Birthday sunshine. Clockwise: Weather forecast. Sitting by the pond. Maybe Baby Bird. Mummy Bird

Cats

We had a couple of cat visitors over the weekend – Jasper and Not Molly (I’m wondering if this is her elusive big brother). They just boldly stroll up the driveway and through the fence into the pond area. I like Not Molly’s moustache:

Cat visitors. Top: Jasper. Bottom: Not Molly

Ducks and Snow Moon

Early evening, our three regular ducks flew spectacularly into the pond for their dinner, so of course we fed them (video here). There was a fourth duck, but the others wouldn’t let him join their gang and we haven’t seen him since despite feeding him too. And early evening we noticed the gorgeous big “Snow Moon” – my photo didn’t do it credit, but you get the idea:

Pond life. Our duck friends. “Snow Moon”

Birthday Dinner

Mum made a delicious Birthday roast dinner. We had roast potatoes, sweet potato, kalettes (a kind of hybrid of kale and Brussel sprouts – very tasty), stuffing and cauliflower ‘cheese’ (details here):

Birthday dinner. Clockwise: Dinner of cauliflower ‘cheese’, roast potatoes, sweet potato, kalettes and stuffing with gravy

Cake

Mum whipped up a tasty cake (thanks for spoiling me Mum) – a cocoa sponge with black cherry jam and coconut cream – very indulgent – there’s still some in the freezer:

Birthday cake – yum!

Online Houseparty

I finished my fantastic day with an online Houseparty with friends. It was great to see them and I even got dressed up for the occasion:

Me ready for online Houseparty

I hope you enjoyed this week’s ‘What’s on Watson’s Plate’. Please feel free to follow my bite-sized updates on Instagram or Facebook. See you next Wednesday for another catch up.

>>>Week 72
<<<Week 70
Home

More from What’s on Watson’s Plate

Article: COVID-19 Vaccines – What the Scientific Experts Say

By Katey Watson

26 February 2021

Image: Gerd Altmann (Pixabay)

Home

Introduction

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted greatly on our lives for over a year. There is finally “a light at the end of the tunnel”, with approval of several vaccines. However, a “Misinformation pandemic” has caused confusion. Therefore, I decided it would be helpful to share what I have learnt from attending the following recent online expert scientific panels about the vaccines approved within the UK:

1. The Royal Society[1]: The Race for a Vaccine[2] (28 January 2021).
2. ZOE Symptom Study[3]: COVID-19 Vaccines: What we know so far[4] (3 February 2021).
3. University of Southampton[5]: Beating COVID-19 – Vaccines, Trials and Prevention[6] (9 February 2021).

What are COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2?

COVID-19 is the disease that develops from exposure to the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

Viruses comprise either ribonucleic acid (RNA) or deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus that is RNA based. Coronaviruses are typically respiratory viruses, replicating in the airways. Four coronaviruses circulate yearly, resulting in cold-like symptoms, whereas SARS, MERS and COVID-19 can cause serious illness[2]. SARS-CoV-2 uses its spike proteins (as a key) to enter our cells through ACE-2 receptors (a doorway). It then hijacks our cells’ machinery to replicate and spreads to other cells in our body. COVID-19 develops if there is a high enough viral load within the body.

COVID-19 is a biphasic disease – it has two main phases:

1. Viral replication: Initial illness for about a week, before the patient starts feeling better[2].
2.  Inflammatory response: Severity depends upon how successfully the immune system halted viral replication – the lower the viral load, the milder the symptoms[2].

Graphic of SARS-CoV-2 viral particle. Image: Joseph Mucira (Pixabay)

Why vaccinate against COVID-19?

Vaccination programmes are a means to safely attaining herd (community) immunity. They suppress or eliminate the infection by reducing its opportunity to spread. These population-wide initiatives protect everyone by shielding those who have not yet or cannot be vaccinated, as well as protecting the individual[2]. The proportion of the population required to obtain herd immunity depends upon the transmissibility of the specific infection. The higher the R0, the more contagious the infection and the more likely mutations will arise. Therefore, where infections have a high R0, it is important to develop a vaccine to reduce or eradicate disease[6].

Vaccines produce stronger and longer-lasting immunity than naturally acquired immunity from previous infection[2, 6]. Incurring both types of immunity provides a cumulative effect, offering greater protection[6].The vaccines approved so far should prevent hospitalisations and death in most cases[6].

COVID-19 has caused long-lasting problems in some patients’ organs, especially the brain and lungs. The long-term health costs from COVID-19 outweigh any potential vaccine long-term risks[4].

The immune system

The two main parts of the immune system are:

1) Innate immune defence:

This first-line (non-specific) defence is constantly alert for invaders. If a threat is identified, the innate immune system cells search for and kill infected host cells and protect others from infection[7]. In viruses, the lower the viral load, the milder the symptoms. But SARS-CoV-2 suppresses the innate response resulting in an increased viral load[2].

2) Adaptive immune defence:

This secondary response is very specific to the invader (e.g. SARS-CoV-2). The major players are:

  • B cells: Antibodies attach to the virus and label it for destruction[7].
  • T cells: Kill infected cells, activate other immune cells and support the antibody response[7].

These cells have a subgroup of memory cells tasked with remembering the specific virus and learning to combat it better next time the virus is encountered[7]. It is expected that COVID-19 vaccines should lengthen the immune response to about a year instead of a few months[2, 4, 6].

Types of vaccine

At time of attending the expert panels, vaccines in use within the UK were Pfizer-BioNTech[8] and Oxford-Astra-Zeneca[9] which teach the immune system to target the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein – the key to entering host cells. The immune system recognises the spike protein and uses it to train antibodies and T cells to inactivate this particular protein. With this spike protein inactivated, the virus cannot enter the cell and replicate, rendering it harmless. These vaccines do not contain the actual SARS-CoV-2 virus and, importantly, do not suppress the innate immune response, unlike the virus[2]. Many other COVID-19 vaccines are under development with potential for future use worldwide[2].

The main types of COVID-19 vaccines are:

  1. Replication-incompetent vector (Astra-Zeneca, Janssen): An inactivated cold virus producing a spike protein. An immune response is mounted against the spike protein and cold virus[6]. (Used against SARS and MERS[4]).
  2. RNA (Pfizer, Moderna): RNA (in this case mRNA or messenger RNA) produces a spike protein from the genetic material carried inside a “lipid particle”. The lipid particle aids the immune response. (Used previously in anti-cancer vaccine research[6].
  3. Recombinant spike protein base (Novavax, Medicago GSK): The spike protein is created in a lab and transported in an “adjuvant” (immune enhancer) to create a stronger immune response. (Fairly traditional method)[6].
  4. Inactivated virus (Valneva): The virus is grown in a lab, killed and inactivated. This method might be useful against spike protein mutations. (Traditional method)[6].

Efficacy:

Vaccine efficacy (efficiency) percentages indicate the ability of the vaccine to protect against developing COVID-19. It is difficult to compare efficacy between COVID-19 vaccine studies, because researchers use different groups of people and measurements to assess their particular vaccine[4, 6].

Image: Belova59 (Pixabay)

Fast vaccine development

Expert scientists were already aware that a viral pandemic posed a serious threat to humanity. Therefore, new vaccine technologies (including mRNA vaccines) had already been in development for many years[2].

At first sight, ten months to develop, test and approve vaccines seems remarkably quick when compared to previous vaccine development. However, this timeframe seems reasonable when it is considered:

  • There was huge worldwide government investment (billions of US dollars) – usually there are long delays waiting for funding to trickle through[2].
  • The three trial phases ran in parallel – usually they take place one after the other[2].

The World Health Organization was integral in coordinating the development of new COVID-19 treatments and vaccines[10]. The UK’s “Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency” (MHRA) is the global expert, previously ensuring vaccine safety for the whole of the European Union. Any uncertainty about vaccine approval is not about safety, it is about how well the vaccines will work and for how long[6].

How vaccines work

1. First dose: Primes the immune system to recognise the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. Specific antibodies are created, and remembered by memory cells[2]. There is some protection against COVID-19 after two to three weeks (depending on the vaccine)[4]. Partial protection should prevent severe disease, keeping most people out of hospital[2, 4].

2. Second dose: Boosts the immune response, making it stronger and longer lasting. Memory cells recognise the SARS-CoV2 spike protein, produce improved antibodies and memorises them for next time they are needed[2].

12-weeks between vaccine doses

Some were concerned when the advised three weeks gap between vaccine doses was changed to twelve weeks. The timeframe changed after Astra-Zeneca analysed their data from people who had received their second dose at twelve weeks – results indicated better efficacy with a longer gap. They are now analysing data from those who had their second booster later than twelve weeks – the data suggests even higher efficacy[4].

There was no medical reason for Pfizer choosing three weeks between doses – presumably, it was to enable faster turnaround for their vaccine release[6]. It was thought Pfizer vaccines would likely perform comparably to Astra-Zeneca, because they elicit a similar immune response[4].On the 18 February 2021, evidence from Israel’s Pfizer vaccinations reported the second dose could potentially be delayed, because the first dose provides adequate interim protection, but advised more long-term follow-up was needed[11]

Image: mohamed Hassan (Pixabay)

Transmissibility

People who have had the vaccine can still carry the virus (SARS-CoV-2) without succumbing to the disease (COVID-19). Hypothetically, it could be spread to someone else, although this is not yet known for sure. But, there is probably reduced risk of transmitting enough virus to cause severe disease, because it cannot replicate as easily in a vaccinated person[2]. The UK’s recent fall in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations, suggests the vaccines offer some protection against transmitting the infection to others – we are awaiting further data to confirm whether this is the case.

Vaccine suitability

Questions were raised about whether the vaccine was suitable for all adults:

Previous infection with SARS-CoV-2:

It is likely the first vaccine dose would improve the immune response in those recently infected with the virus (up to six months ago) compared to those who have not been exposed[4]. COVID “long-haulers” should be safe to take the vaccine, because ongoing symptoms are an inflammatory response, not the virus itself[4].

Autoimmune diseases and immune suppressants:

People with autoimmune diseases or prescribed immune suppressants are not usually included in vaccine trials, because they skew the study results, rather than concerns over their safety. Therefore, according to Professor Tim Spector, the vaccines should be safe for this group[4].

Astra-Zeneca and the over 65’s:

Astra-Zeneca was tested on a limited number of over 65’s, because many in this group were advised to shield at the time trials were commencing. Therefore, it seemed inappropriate to ask most of this group to attend research centres[4]. On 15 February 2021, the World Health Organization recommended Astra-Zeneca for adults of all ages based on the available study results[12].

Vaccine side effects

No steps were missed in testing the vaccines before approval[6]. Phase three trials (the biggest phase, testing for efficacy) included ten times more volunteers than usual – sometimes over 30,000 people, compared to the usual 2,000 – 3,000[2, 6].

The UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) assessed the Astra-Zeneca vaccine based on millions of doses – their results showed exceptionally good safety. Up to 1,000 reactions are considered normal, but for the Astra-Zeneca trials, there were only the usual immediate minor side effects (e.g. sore arm, fever) and no hospital admissions[6]. Any vaccine side effects of concern are expected to occur fairly immediately; therefore, people usually wait fifteen minutes after vaccination before leaving the vaccination centre[2].

Common side effects:

As with most vaccines, common minor side effects can occur soon after vaccination and may last a few days. The most common is a sore or slightly swollen arm near site of injection. A smaller proportion, experience systemic effects, including headache, fever and/or fatigue. Systemic effects are more likely after the second (booster) dose, because the immune system is already primed to recognise viral proteins[4]. These symptoms indicate the immune system is developing protection. People are more likely to experience side effects if they are anxious about them, even with the placebo saline injection (placebo effect). Symptoms are eased with paracetamol[4].

Side effects due to previous COVID-19 exposure:

Individuals who had previously experienced Covid-19 were twice as likely to experience systemic side effects after the first vaccine. This suggests in these circumstances, the primer (first dose) acts like a booster (second dose), as the immune system was already primed by prior natural exposure to SARS-CoV-2. Consequently, these individuals could have more protection, closer to that experienced after the second dose. It is still safe to have the second booster dose[4].

Image: Wilfried Pohnke (Pixabay)

Mixing vaccines

It has long been known, mixing different classes of vaccines between doses can provide a more efficient immune response[4, 6]. Currently the UK does not plan to mix doses, because this has not been tested on SARS-CoV-2 vaccines yet (this is the next research step)[6]. In the future, a range of vaccine boosters could become available to provide better protection against specific variants[4].

New variants

New SARS-CoV-2 variants were always expected – it is part of natural evolution[2, 4]. Viral replication is not perfect – copying errors result in random mutations. Changes that enable the virus to spread more easily are more likely to become dominant over those that spread slowly, as this increases the virus’s survival chances[2]. Regardless, it is extremely unlikely a variant would completely resist a vaccine – there may be more susceptibility for mild infection, with most avoiding severe illness[6].

If enough people are vaccinated, variant concerns will be less relevant, because the infection will be forced to die out. The key is to work together (worldwide) and focus on vaccination to drive down R0 and levels of virus circulation[4]. With less virus circulating, there is less opportunity for the virus to mutate into new variants.

RNA viruses, such as SARS-CoV-2, evolve slowly. Therefore, it is thought current vaccines should remain effective against COVID-19 for at least a year. Research scientists are working on vaccine tweaks to protect against new variants – a much quicker process than creating vaccines from scratch, as only minor changes to the existing vaccines are required[2, 4, 6]. Also, less volunteers are needed in these trials, further speeding up the process[4].

Image: memyselfaneye (Pixabay)

The Misinformation pandemic

There is major concern about the spread of misinformation by people in a position of trust and those in algorithm-led social media bubbles. The whole of society needs to tackle this issue, including:

  • Public citizens/peers,
  • Government,
  • Scientists[6].

A common misconception by many people is that mRNA vaccines are “gene therapy” and not actually vaccines, because they think the injected mRNA alters human DNA. This does not happen – after the mRNA has passed on its message, it just breaks down and degrades in a harmless manner[6].

The future

It has almost been a year since the UK (and many other countries) first went into lockdown. So what does the future hold for us? This is what the scientific experts predict:

Yearly vaccine boosters:

It is unlikely COVID-19 will completely disappear – instead, it is expected to become a background infection (endemic). We will probably need an annual booster for the immediate future, particularly to protect the vulnerable[4, 6].

Changed behaviour:

There is likely to be an improved attitude towards infection – changing behaviour to prevent infection risk – similar to attitude/behaviour changes towards accidents. Historically, accidents were a common cause of death, but this gradually changed over the years with improved preventative measures[6]. The public are now more aware about the importance of handwashing and ventilation, but other bad habits still need to be addressed, including the UK culture of going into work when unwell[6].

Targeted strategies: Identifying the spreaders:

It is unclear whether spreaders are adults returning home from work, and/or children returning from school. When this has been identified, better targeted health strategies can be introduced to protect the community[2]. Governments are expected to prepare improved response systems to mitigate pandemic spread of emerging future viruses[6].

Utilising technology:

The latest generation vaccines (mRNA and replication-incompetent vector) are as good as, if not better than traditional vaccines. There is very promising potential to use this technology to protect us against other prevalent diseases, including cancer[2].

Future research initiatives:

  • Preventing long-haul COVID[6].
  • Investigating the impact of the vaccines in long-haul COVID patients[6].
  • Research into vaccinating children to protect the community[6].

Lessons learnt:

  • The countries suffering least from this pandemic were those with a quick and decisive response: Taiwan learnt from the SARS epidemic in 2003 and reacted quickly. The UK (and other countries) need a quicker and more decisive response the next time an infectious disease emerges[2].
  • This pandemic has highlighted some serious inequalities within society needing to be addressed[2].
  • Global vaccination is needed to control this pandemic[2].
Image: Aksh Kinjawadekar (Pixabay)

Returning to ‘normal’

The big question is “Will the Covid-19 vaccines bring back normality?” Currently in the UK, we cannot change our cautious behaviour, because the virus is still widely circulating and we need to protect the whole population[4]. A more normal situation is expected in a year or so, but we need to embrace a new normal to protect humanity. Humans have taken away too much from the planet, affecting the climate and environment – the new normal needs to be a more sustainable way of life[2].

Conclusion

The COVID-19 pandemic is a global health concern, with scientists working around the clock to develop treatments and preventative vaccines to counteract this threat. However, the “Misinformation pandemic” has led to public confusion about the safety and effectiveness of approved vaccines. Therefore, scientists led expert panel discussions to address concerns and answer questions (some of which I have shared with you here). Vaccination programmes are imperative to control the spread of fast spreading infectious diseases with high mortality, such as COVID-19. Vaccines provide stronger and longer-lasting immunity than naturally acquired immunity. Fast vaccine development and approval was enabled by massive government investment and parallel-running trials. The long-term adverse health effects from COVID-19 outweigh any potential vaccine long-term risks. Vaccination programmes are a community initiative, aimed at protecting everyone, including those who cannot be vaccinated. The future of humanity requires a more sustainable lifestyle to protect our planet from new and re-emerging infectious diseases.

Image: Gerd Altmann (Pixabay)

Home

References

1. The Royal Society, 2021. The Royal Society.
2. Prof. Brian Cox, Prof. Melinda Mills, Prof. Charles Bangham and Dr Rino Rappuoli: The Royal Society, 2021. The Race for a Vaccine.
3. ZOE Symptom Study, 2021. ZOE Symptom Study.
4. Dr Anna Goodman and Prof. Tim Spector: ZOE Symptom Study, 2021. Covid-19 Vaccines: What we know so far.
5. University of Southampton, 2021.University of Southampton.
6. Prof. John Holloway, Prof. Rob Read, Prof. Saul Faust and Prof. Lucy Yardley OBE: University of Southampton, 2021. Beating COVID-19 – Vaccines, Trials and Prevention.
7. The Open University, 2014. SK320 Infectious Disease and Public Health: Block 1.
8. GOV.UK, 2021. Information for UK recipients on Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
9. GOV.UK, 2021. Regulatory approval of COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca.
10. World Health Organization, 2021. COVID-19 Vaccines.
11. Amit, S., Regev-Yochay, G., Afek, A., Kreiss, Y. and Leshem, E.: The Lancet, 2021. Early rate reductions of SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 in BNT162b2 vaccine recipients.
12. World Health Organization, 2021. WHO lists two additional COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use and COVAX roll-out.

More from What’s on Watson’s Plate