What is social prescribing and how can it help you?

You may have recently heard the word social prescribing coming up in the news. From the use of the arts to help those struggling with mental health including the possibility of using comedians to help those with trauma. But what is social prescribing and how could it help you? Here, we get the full-down on social prescribing from Bev Taylor, Director of Strategy, National Academy for Social Prescribing and why this latest form of lifestyle medicine might be coming to prescribed to you by your GP sometime soon….

What is a social prescription and when is it generally used?

Social prescribing changes lives. It connects people to practical and emotional community support, through social prescribing link workers, who are based in GP practices and take referrals from all local agencies. Link workers have time to build trusting relationships, start with what matters to the person, create a shared plan and introduce people to community support.

Link workers give people time, focusing on ‘what matters to me’ and taking a holistic approach to people’s health and wellbeing. They connect people to community groups and sources of advice, practical and emotional support. A social prescription helps people get more control over their health and wellbeing, to manage their needs and in a way that suits them. It can especially help people who:

  • have one or more long-term condition
  • need support with their mental health
  • are lonely or isolated
  • need extra help to make community connections
  • have complex social needs which affect their wellbeing.

The NHS has committed to connecting people to activities in the community that help them manage their health and wellbeing. The National Academy for Social Prescribing exists to ensure these activities are supported, celebrated and able to support people’s needs.

How can it improve our health?

There is emerging evidence that social prescribing can lead to a range of positive health and wellbeing outcomes for people, such as improved quality of life and emotional wellbeing.

Many things affect our health and wellbeing – finances, access to green space, what’s going on at home, to name a few.1 in 5 appointments booked with GPs are for essentially non-medical reasons. These include issues such as loneliness, social isolation, debt, housing issues and relationships. [Source: A very general practice: How much time do GPs spend on issues other than health? – Citizens Advice]

People may talk to their GP because they may be feeling stressed about their work, money, or because they are lonely and isolated. The impact that these issues can have on our physical and mental wellbeing has been particularly clear as the nation responds to COVID19.

But these problems cannot be fixed by medicine, or doctors, alone. That’s where a social prescription comes in.  Social prescribing connects people to practical and emotional community support, through social prescribing link workers, who are based in GP practices and take referrals from all local agencies. Link workers have time to build trusting relationships, start with what matters to the person, create a shared plan and introduce people to community support.

Activities such as those connected with the arts, or natural environment, or engaging in exercise or sport can help us to maintain and build relationships, unlock our strengths, to have choice and control and to find constructive and helpful activities within our community.

social prescribing

How can it improve our enjoyment of life?

Everyone will gain from being asked the question ‘what matters to you?’ Social prescribing link workers help those people who need extra support to make community connections. They introduce people to community groups and practical support. They follow-up to ensure that people are included and getting the support they need.  Having someone to help us deal with poor housing and money worries can be a real life saver.  It can be positive to be out in the community, doing things, learning new skills, and meeting new people. All of these add to our enjoyment of life.

What could a social prescription include?

Social prescribing links people to a range of activities that are typically provided by voluntary and community sector organisations, for example, debt counselling, housing advice, volunteering, arts activities, group learning, gardening, befriending, cookery, healthy eating advice and a range of sports.

What are some examples of social prescription?

Through the Thriving Communities Fund the National Academy for Social Prescribing is supporting 36 projects to deliver social prescribing in their communities. Some highlights include:

  • Reading Voluntary Action – Wild Being – An extensive programme of arts, culture, nature, physical activity and life advice for 300 people including pop up arts, English language conversations, and gardening.
  • Robin Hood Health Foundation Prescribe to Thrive Partnership – Tailored social prescribing to reach 100 residents to improve physical and mental health and wellbeing, alongside support for artists and creatives.
  • Argyle Community Trust Green Social Prescribing – A health and wellbeing programme in Central Park, Plymouth, to enhance use and enjoyment of green space and green social prescribing.
  • Canal & River Trust – Nottingham & Beeston Canal – The Canal & River Trust will lead partners will use the natural asset of the Nottingham & Beeston Canal to provide physical activity, art, heritage and food-based activities, reaching c.430 people.
  • Heeley Development Trust – Happier Healthier Heeley Plus – A range of creative, green and physical activities to help people reconnect – including bicycle powered Shakespeare.
  • Sunderland Culture Sunderland Social Prescribing Partnership – High-quality creative social prescribing activities for carers and their families including doorstep delivery, men’s shed, outdoor volunteering and singing for lung health.
social prescribing

How do we go about getting a social prescription?

In 2019 the NHS introduced social prescribing link workers as part of the NHS infrastructure, which acknowledged what was already happening in some places. They were introduced in primary care networks, as part of the multidisciplinary teams within the practice team.

When social prescribing works well, people can be easily referred to link workers within their GP practice. People can also refer themselves.

There are many opportunities for people to access community activities directly, but the social prescribing link worker role is crucial for those unable to connect for themselves, or facing barriers to achieving their health and wellbeing goals; or perhaps lacking skills, knowledge or confidence.

Anything else to add or any resources to share?

The Thriving Communities Ideas Hub is packed full of inspiring stories, and you can join our Network to connect with others interested in the field.

photo created by rawpixel.com and tirachardz – www.freepik.com

Totally crazy things that happen the week before your period

You know that moment when you start your period, and you think to yourself…oh my god, this explains so much! The week before your period can be a freakish time. While nothing is more offensive than someone asking us if we’re about to come on our period, the reality is, the week before our period can make us feel and seem totally psychotic.

My last run up to my period was a perfect case in point. Complete Nutters R Us, let me tell you. If I was in sync with any of my girlfriends we probably would have been incacerated so dangerous would we have been. Just think, if it were all the women of the world it would easily just become known as The Apocolypse. But now that I am through it, I can look back at giggle at some of the crazy things that happen the week before your period. Just don’t make any period jokes while I’m on it. Period.

So without furtherado, down below is a quick reference to some of the crazy things that happen the week before your period

Insatiable eating

As if our uterus was on track to shed all the food we shovel into our mouths, our sole raison raison d’etre for the week before our period seems to become a game of how much junk you can binge eat in said period of time. After which we then only stop to cry about the fact we just did so.

week before your period

Raging murderous fury

Excuse us for being so hateful and foul, and a second away from a PMS-induced fit of anger like we have been posessed by some indescribable lunacy, it’s just that our bodies are ripping down our uterus walls and now we want to kill anyone in ourlife that merely looks our way.

Complete hatred for humankind

Well if it wasn’t bad enough having to deal with the people we actually like, we had to deal with the everyone else which means we have to resist the urge to want to punch everyone that crosses our path in the throat for an entire week!

Complete loss of any sense of humour

Humour? What bloody humour? And no being a walking PMS cliche is NOT FUNNY. Stop freaking patronising me!!

week before your period

Extreme cack handedness

Dropping oven trays on the floor, your toothbrush doing acrobatics out of your hand and landing into the toilet bowl FFS (cue me bending over the toilet with a fricking ladel to try and rescue it), tripping over thin air, knocking water all over your phone and a million other ways you’ll find to be as a big old bumbling bear.

Mind boggling vivid dreams

Every night before your period you wake from your sleep needing a whole other sleep because you’ve been resurrecting The Matrix/ hosting Inception/ playing The Fugitive in your dreams.

week before your period

Inability to curb your use of the f word

F-this, F-you, F-everyone, F-it, just F this effing s***, you can all F off!

Insaitable sexual appetite

You are as horny as an old goat. Only problem is you are unlikely to get some because who is going to want to do it with the boob-aching, sweaty, raging banshee you have become the week before your period. Oh the irony!

And then thank the Lord! Your period comes and your emotional, hell-inducing rollercoaster is finally over, and all is well with the world again…..until next time.

Which of the above gets your the most the week before your period and what else would you add to this list? Let it all out sistas and join our community over on Instagram here for more women’s talk.

People photo created by katemangostar, Food photo created by wayhomestudio, Woman photo created by wayhomestudio, People photo created by KamranAydinov – www.freepik.com

Living with BRCA1: From ticking time bomb to taking action

It’s been almost 6 months since I tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation. That means six excruciating months of living with BRCA1 feeling like a ticking time bomb and being at worryingly high risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer – may be both – over my lifetime, maybe over the next couple of years. Who knows? I don’t have enough women in my family to know how this could play out for me.

After spending a couple of months in denial, I went into a total research frenzy. I became obsessed with finding out the answer to everything about my new mind-bending prognosis to make sense of this crazy world of living with BRCA1. I had so many questions and thoughts on repeat in my brain it was utterly exhausting and overwhelming. Every spare minute I had I was lurking around in BRCA Facebook support groups and BRCA threads in cancer charity forums, feverishly devouring other women’s stories of their BRCA journey and their version of living with BRCA1 – the good, the bad and the ugly.

With every story, I anxiously weighed up my options, which I began to realise were not as many as I had hoped for a woman in her 40s in this day and age.

As I write this, I already have a 1 in 100 chance of developing breast cancer anytime now and that gives me the cold sweats just thinking about it. I know I need to trust myself, have courage, and blow this baby wide open.

Living with BRCA1

Living with BRCA1: No easy magic bullet

After countless conversations, I began to realise there is no magic bullet here other than to have preventative surgery. At my appointment with the Genetics team at The Royal Marsden to which I turned up still clutching at the hope that I wouldn’t have to have my ovaries and breasts removed dissolved quickly. The brutal reality of what I was dealing with smacked me right in the face.

Any noninvasive treatment using PARP inhibitor drugs in a preventative manner that might suppress the faulty gene expression instead of ops was at the very least five years away. At the moment they are only used for actual cancer treatment and are at the time of writing not even in the early trial phase for preventative treatment. Even if I got onto a trial, there is no guarantee that I would then be given a placebo. And of course then I would also have to sit and twiddle my thumbs for a number of years, by which time I could have already developed cancer. And that is not a chance I’m willing to take. Ultimately I began to realise my options were:

  1. Go through the excrutiating pain of taking a wait and see approach of being monitored for breast cancer through regular MRIs, mammograms and freaking out every time I thought I found a lump in one of my breasts. Note, there is no effective screening process for ovarian cancer. So that basically means just waiting to see if and when the cancer shows up and then having to deal with it and the potentially horrific treatment that fighting cancer involves. Thanks but no thanks.
  2. Taking place in The Protector Study to have just my fallopian tubes removed because it’s estimated that around 70% of ovarian cancers start there. I was seriously tempted by this but at already 41 years of age and most ovarian cancer risk presenting itself from age 45, I felt I didn’t really have the time to be messing around with this one. Ultimately I would need to have my ovaries removed in the end anyway and this felt like simply delaying the inevitable….
  3. Having my ovaries removed, my breasts removed and the reconconstructed. The full shebang. Jesus.
  4. Put my faith in alternative approach mainly through lifestyle, diet and herbs and supplements known to have cancer suppressing properties. Ultimately I was just not willing to put my eggs in that basket – as big an advocate I usually am of the natural approach – when essentially my life was on the line.
Living with BRCA1

Step up number three

I knew that whichever way I sliced it, the only option to help keep me cancer-free, alive and well would be number three.

So now I spend my free time looking at pictures of reconstructed boobs convincing myself that I will be ok with my future double mastectomy and reconstruction, that the scars will not be too bad and if they are, that I will try to turn them into something positive by having an artistic tattoo inked over them.

I am also shit scared of the hormonal mess that may ensue from having my ovaries removed – even with HRT which doesn’t mean it will all be rosy. I’ve been there before when I had a total thyroidectomy due to precancerous cells in my thyroid and it was not pretty let me tell you. So I’ve booked an appointment with hormone specialists at The Marion Gluck Clinic to start that conversation and get the best advice I can get.

I’ve also been really lucky to find a couple of amazing BRCA positive role models in my personal network who have been there done that and are helping me to deal with all the things I am so scared of. Questions like will I still be the same person? Will I still like myself? Will it affect my confidence? Wow about my libido and sex?

In the final analysis, it is a big thing having two things massively associated with your womanhood removed, and it is that at the moment that I’m finding the hardest to come to terms with. But then when you stack that up against cancer….well, how could I be so vain? But there it is.

Living with BRCA1: So what’s my game plan?

Right now, I’m waiting for my breast MRI results, hoping that there isn’t something lurking there already. And my rebooked mammogram- because I bloody well got pinged and had to go and take a PCR test which scuppered my previous appointment – is now ticked off. And so I wait.

Once I’ve had those results and know what I’m dealing with, I’ll be able to move forward. My plan is to immerse myself in the Christmas festivities and live life to the max with as much joy as I can possibly cram into it, then come January it’s time for shit to get real. I need to push the button and say I want to move forward with the procedures and stop cowering behind the sofa, starting with the oophorectomy (that’s ovaries removed to you and me love). I know I can do this, I’ve got to be fierce, a previvor, and do it for all those women who never got a chance to do so. I’m doing it for me, my daughter, my family, and for every woman who never made it this far.

Woman photo , People photo created by wayhomestudio, Ribbon photo created by rawpixel.com – www.freepik.com

The brain at 40 and how to sort yours out

Listen up people, today we’re talking the brain at 40. If you’ve been forgetting names, words, and generally feeling a bit all over the shop then there is a good reason why. Despite the fact that many of us think that our brains will become geriatric at 70, brain ageing actually starts at 40 – gulp! Scientists report that after age 40, brain tissue shows genetic changes that may contribute to the aging process, including cognitive decline. This is why you couldn’t win a memory game even if your life depended on it.

So as I write this – and you read this – our brains are probably shrinking – along with their capabilities. What a scary thought! So are we to just submit to this, or is there anything we can do to throw on the breaks here in our 40s?

Thankfully neuroscientist Dr Jack Lewis and Adrian Webster – authors of the 2nd edition of Sort Your Brain Out – have some rather excellent tips to share to help your brain at 40 be the best it can. Read on for their top 10 Brain Optimisation Principles (BOPs) which include the core things to focus on if you want to get more out of your brain on a daily basis.

10 Brain Optimisation Tips for the brain at 40

BOP 1: Prioritise your sleep

The reason sleep is so important for our brains is that it’s when all the repair and maintenance work gets done. Each night we go through several sleep cycles of alternating deep and dream sleep. Deep sleep is when our brains accelerate the rate at which the toxins that build up over the course of each day are removed. Dream sleep is when our brains make temporary memories more permanent and, importantly, when the negative emotions attached to any emotionally-upsetting events are stripped away. If we only get 4-7 hours of sleep per night, rather than the 8 hours that is optimal for most adults, we miss out on the max dose of anxiety-reducing dream sleep because those dreaming parts of the sleep cycle last longer during the second half of the night.

BOP 2: Exercise daily

When we do 30 mins of moderate intensity exercise every day (or 60 mins of intense exercise every other day) our muscles release powerful chemicals known as myokines. These travel up to the brain in the bloodstream where they trigger release of another substance, which causes more new brain cells to be born. These extra brain cells are generated in the hippocampus, an area critical to memory, navigation and even imagining the future. Daily exercise even re-energises the older brain cells in our hippocampus. Brains of retirees who were vigilant in taking plenty of exercise during middle age are always in better nick than those who never quite got round to it. Getting in the habit of taking more exercise now pays huge dividends, both immediately and many decades later.

BOP 3: Meditation Changes Brains

Much evidence has accumulated in the neuroscience literature supporting the idea that 20 mins of daily mindfulness meditation improves your physical health, mental well-being and enhances your cognitive performance. After just a week of daily sessions your ability to focus improves. After a fortnight, measurable changes have taken place in white matter (brain wires) in areas involved in taking an objective, “helicopter view” on life. After a month, grey matter becomes denser – signifying more connections between the brain wires involved in anxiety-reducing reflection. If you want to be sure you get some meditation done every day, the best time to do it is first thing in the morning.

the brain at 40

BOP 4: Be master not slave to technology

Many people immediately pick up their phone as soon as they have an idle moment, but this robs them of the opportunity to daydream. It’s well-known that we only get our Eureka! moments or have personal breakthroughs when we let our minds wander and mull things over properly. Consequently, filling every moment of the day with stimulation, from the moment you wake up until you get into bed at the end of the day, is against your best interests. Apps are usually designed to grab your attention and keep you engrossed for as long as possible, displacing time you could be spending doing something much more rewarding.

BOP 5: Collect more hobbies

Hobbies are vastly under-rated. They are a brilliant way to find flow. Flow describes a brain state of being actively engaged with what you’re doing; where you feel challenged, but not too much. Absorbed by a series of tasks that are not too hard, not too easy, but just right in the difficulty level. The benefit of being in flow is that you are completely in the present moment and therefore not thinking about stressful events of the past or future. And the more hobbies you enjoy pursuing, some indoor, some out, the more options are available to you when you need to reduce your stress levels. Reading, playing chess or bridge and dancing are all hobbies known to help us hold onto our marbles well into old age.

BOP 6: Get yourself connected

As we get older many people start to think of friends as nice to have, but not essential. But for an incredibly social creature like the human, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Feeling like we have secure, reliable social connections with a few other people is extremely important for physical and mental health. Socially connected people live longer and suffer fewer psychological problems – like depression, anxiety and personality disorders – than those who feel socially isolated. How to slowly but surely increase your social network? See BOP7…

the brain at 40

BOP 7: Offer to help other people

There is a natural inclination shared by humans all over the planet: if one person helps another, they’ll actively seek opportunities to repay the favour; or find some other way of showing their gratititude. Owing a debt is uncomfortable. Mutual cycles of helping are key to developing trust. Trust cements all worthwhile social connections. Of course, not everyone repays favours. But by showing a general willingness to help, friendships naturally develop when you help the right people – those who always repay a favour.

BOP 8: Eat for two (trillion)

There are trillions of bacteria in our gut – often referred to as the microbiome. Recent research has shown that what we feed our microbiome has a tremendous impact on how we feel. When thinking about what to have for dinner it’s important to consider what your gut bacteria like to eat because they actually create chemical byproducts that our brains use. While our gut enzymes can’t digest fibre, our gut bacteria can. They produce a chemical byproduct that travels up to our brain to produce feelings of being full sooner rather than later. So getting plenty of fibre in your diet on a daily basis, in the form of fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains, makes you feel fuller faster, reducing calorie intake.

BOP 9: Avoid processed foods wherever possible

Processed food has a longer shelf life, which is convenient, but is almost always higher in fat, sugar, salt and preservatives than freshly prepared food. Why? Because the same stuff that makes natural food go off is what tastes good (and what your gut bacteria would get to work on to produce all sort of useful vitamins and minerals that our brains can use to help our brains work better). To make processed foods last longer, all the healthy tasty stuff that might make it go off quickly is removed, leaving food that tastes so bland and horrible the only way the manufacturers can get us to want to eat it is to pack it full of salt, sugar and fat. Prepare food from fresh ingredients and you’ll instantly be reducing your intake of salt, sugar and fat; all of which are bad for brain health in excess.

BOP 10: Practice time-restricted feeding

Being overweight in middle age damages the white matter (wire-like brain cells that send electrical messages from A to B). In scans, these brains look like the brain of someone ten years older, but with a body mass in the healthy range. One of the best ways to shed excess fat is to get in the habit of time-restricted feeding, i.e. getting the whole day’s eating done in just 10-12 hrs per day. It really helps bodies to burn fat stored under skin and around internal organs. That’s because our bodies only start using up fat when all the available glucose in the bloodstream (and storage) have been used up. And that only happens if you eat breakfast at least 12+ hours after your last sip or nibble of a sweet treat the night before (NB beer, wine and milk all contain sugar!).

For more detail on all these topics and much, much more, the brand new second edition of Sort Your Brain Out; Boost Your Performance, Manage Stress and Achieve More, 2nd Edition by Jack Lewis and Adrian Webster (published by Capstone) is now available in all good bookshops; both on the high street and online.

Photos by  SHVETS productions,  Alexandr Podvalny, and Andres Ayrton from Pexels

Tried and Tested: The autumn edit + a massive giveaway!

Welcome back to our regular feature at 40 Now What where we hunt down and share with you some of the awesome things that have landed in our inboxes lately! In the name of you – our lovely readers – we have been busy chugging, chowing, nurturing and guinea-pigging ourselves to the max. Read on to find out what has made the cut in our recommendations to you in our autumn edition of Tried and Tested. PLUS there is the chance to win over almost £500 in prizes in our bumper giveaway where you can win a massive selection of the items featured in this edition.

So without further ado, come a little closer and let us tell you about this month’s shining stars because this month we have been….

Eating/drinking

Mockingbird Spirit

Have you also fallen into the habitual 6pm wine trap? It’s time for a replacement. We’ve tried and tested non-alcoholic alternatives. And we’ve hit the jackpot. Mockingbird Spirit is an alcohol FREE, tequila INSPIRED, agave-based SPIRIT. Ideal for making all the margaritas with none of the migraines. Embodying the spirit of the Mockingbird, humbly mimicking the taste of Tequila by using authentic 100% Organic Mexican Blue Weber Agave. A functional & adaptogenic, passionately produced Alcoternative, made with all vegan/ gluten free ingredients to support health and happiness. Feat. Pure Ashwagandha, an adaptogen that benefits mental and physical wellbeing.The latest creation from their team of wellness beverage enthusiasts is the brand new Non-Alcoholic Mexican style Cerveza; Esmeralda, made with real Mockingbird Spirit. 

Mockingbird Spirit, £22.99 Esmeralda, £26.99 for 12. Available from mockingbirdspirit.com

Tuscan Tree

We were so excited to try out this new non alcoholic aperitivo and it didn’t disappoint when we used it for mixing up a Negroni. Infused with the fresh, natural juice of real blood orange juice. The bottle looks awesome in any drinks cabinet. Check out the mocktail menu on their website here and unleash your Italian spirit without the hangover!

Tuscan Tree, £11.99 (70ml bottle.) Available from Amazon, Master of Malt

Bella Italia

You had me at prosecco! Bella Italia is a unique 0% alcohol free sparkling wine made & bottled in the heart of prosecco country in Treviso, Italy. Using revolutionary technology keeps the unpasteurised & micro-filtered must fresh, with nothing added except the carbon dioxide which guarantees that special fizz. The result is a fresh Italian sparkling wine with a delicate flavour, low calorie content (just 46 calories per glass)& always, all importantly, 0% alcohol. Having tried and tested it during Mimosa Thursday, we are not joking when we tell you we couldn’t tell the difference and it was nice not to be tipsy on the school run! (jokes!)

Bella Italia, £9.95. Available from Amazon

Good Fibrations snack bars

How thrilled were we when these little bad boys landed on our desk for us to snaffle. We really struggle around 4pm and these bars are perfect. Designed to support your gut health, they are one of the highest fibre content health bars on the market and provide a third of your recommended 30g daily fibre intake! The bars come in yummy Peanut Butter, Raspberry & Coconut, Apple & Cinnamon, Cocoa & Hazelnut and are gluten-free, high in fibre, dairy-free and totally vegan too.

Good fibrations, £1.30 individually or boxes of 12 in Peanut Butter and Raspberry & Coconut for £15 for 12. Available from The Gut Stuff or Ocado

Jack Link’s High Protein Meat Snacks

I’d always been super curious about beef jerky. In 2019, Jack Link’s launched an improved recipe for its delicious Beef Jerky range, delivering a juicier and even more tender bite, responding to consumer demands following rigorous taste tests. I love the texture of it and its salty goodness. The full range is made of 100% lean beef, is high protein and all products are under 80kcals per portion. The Beef Jerky currently comes in three delicious flavours including Original, Sweet & Hot and Teriyaki. Perfect for afternoon snacking, on-the-go refuelling at home or at work.

12 x Bags, £12.99 from jacklinks.online or £3 per bag. Available from Ocado

Looking after our bodies & minds

tried and tested

The Leg Master® 

Pelvic floor issues? Have you got 1 minute a day? That’s 60 seconds ladies! We’ve got you. This fantastic bit of kit uses your own body weight to improve pelvic floor health through classic strength training and deliver a full body workout, and also improves posture.  Pelvic Floor health is essential not only for women who have had babies – but for everyone (men included!), and one beneficial side effect of The Leg Master® Total Body is that the muscles used to control ‘incontinence’ are strengthened, and tightened. Watch me in action here!

The Leg Master® , £89.95. Available from legmaster.co.uk

Trade to Aid pads

Feeling conscious of your period waste but haven’t yet made the switch to reusable pads. It’s not as scary as you might think! If you’re thinking of making the switch, we highly recommend taking the plunge with Trade To Aid reusable sanitary pads which come with everything you need to be kinder to the planet when Aunty Flo comes to visit. Think bright colours, a variety of pads to suit your flow during your period and the inclusion of a much needed matching waterproof storage bag and an absorbancy level which was absolutely spot on. Plus for every pack of pads you buy from Trade To Aid, they give a free pack to someone in need in a refugee camp to help the fight against period poverty. We’re almost excited to get our next period so we can use them again!

Trade To Aid Reusable Sanitary pads, £29.95 for a set. Available from tradetoaid.org

Beautifying with

Beauty products from Asia

We all know those beautiful women from Japan and Korea have the most to-die-for skin and now it’s time for us to get a piece of that pie! Korean beauty giant Atomy understands the importance of self-care, which is why they have created an online shopping mall that encapsulates everything to make you feel amazing from the outside in. We are huge fans of their multi award-winning Absolute CellActive Ampoule. Think of it like your favourite serum – only more powerful, much like a boot camp for your skin. Repairing, hydrating, brightening and anti-ageing, this is your secret weapon in times of skin dullness, breakouts, inflammation and irritation. Or whenever your skin is not looking its best.

Time to hop over to Japan. Hada Labo Tokyo™ -Japan’s number one selling skincare brand – is now available in the UK and we are massively crushing on it.  Formulated for dry and dehydrated skin, this super skincare brand is designed to boost hydration by supplementing your skin with hyaluronic acid. We can not live a day without Hada Labo Tokyo™’s Anti-Ageing Super Hydrator Lotion or Wrinkle Corrector Eye and Mouth Cream which together with their Anti Aging Sheet Mask has left us looking about ten years younger!

Absolute CellActive Ampoule, £36. Available from www.atomy.com/uk. Stock up on Japan Hada Labo Tokyo™’s range at Superdrug.

Beeutiful B-Rose Facial Balm

There is something incredibly comforting and soothing about using a facial balm, especially at the end of a long hard day. And that’s why Beeutiful’s B-Rose Facial Balm has become part of our bedtime beauty ritual. Know for creating natural handmade skincare so natural you could eat it, Beeutiful’s B-Rose Facial Balm is a luxurious blend of specially selected Jojoba, Rosehip & Macadamia oils combined within a beeswax base and the addition of delicate Rose Absolute to refresh, regenerate & tone.  It smells amazing, transporting us nightly a gloriously scented rose-filled relaxing place. But the real plus? Waking up to an fabulously nourished looking visage every morning!

Beeutiful B-Rose Facial Balm, £18. Available from from Beeutiful

ThickTails

So many of us are challenged by fine, thin hair and have tried so many different brands over the years. With perimenopause on the horizon, we were keen to try something new to help us battle the trestles. This range does not disappoint. ThickTails works to stimulate new hair growth by:

  • Improving the quality of the keratin structures formed.
  • Stimulating collagen and fibre renewal.
  • Reducing hair inflammation around the hair shaft.
  • Keeping the scalp at the optimal pH balance for healthy hair to grow.
  • Providing essential active ingredients to protect hair from free radicals and oxidants. 

Check us out using it via Instagram here

ThickTails Stimulating Shampoo, £17 Stimulating Conditioner, £17 Thickening Spray, £17. Available from Thicktails.com

Wearing

Cozi Hoodie

Close your eyes and imagine being swarmed by 100s of fluffy puppies… and that friends is that it feels like to be wearing a Cozi Hoodie. Made with sherpa fleece and lannel fleece to keep you warm and cushy so you don’t have to worry about the cold, we are pretty sure that this is the cosiest, comfiest and warmest we’ve ever felt whilst being engulfed in our Cozi Hoodie. Think taking comfort with you anywhere – nana naps on the couch, alfresco drinks with friends, cuddling with your pooch or partner – the options are endless!

Cozi Hoodie, £59. Available from cozihoodie.com

PLAINANDSIMPLE T-Shirts

This is a new ‘circular’ company. The slogan here is Made to be Re-Made. They offer free returns and a lifetime guarantee, that when they’re worn out, you can send them back, get £6.00 store credit, we then break them down and turn them into new ones. How awesome is that? They are perfect for autumn, wearing under leather jackets or styled in many different ways.

T-shirts, from £24. Available from plainandsimple.com

Feather and Bloom headbands

There’s nothing we love more than a strategically placed headband for elevating an every day look or dustract from greasy hair. Our go-to is this gorgeous guinea fowl feather headband from Father and Bloom. Simple, striking, elegant and easy to pair with so many different outfits, plus this is the most comfortable hairband you’ll find. 

Spotty Headband, £30. Available from Feather and Bloom

Tillet’s Clothing Cape

We are big believers in the power of accessorising over at 40 Now What. Our recent crush? This block patterned knitted cape from Tillets Clothing. Perfect for adding a bit of style over your standard jeans and boots look, but also super flattering and incredibly versatile making it the perfect layering piece for the season.

Block Patterned Knitted Cape, £30. Available from Tilllets Clothing

Vionic Shoes

These shoes are divine. I’m living in my Cecily ankle boots this autumn. This is an orthotic footwear brand which is loved by 40+ women, both for its style and also the fact that every pair of shoes comes with in-build comfort technology, which cups the sole, provides arch support and cushioning under the ball of the foot. We had a sneak peek at their Spring/Summer 22 collection and have to say ladies, your feet are in for a treat!

Ankle boots, £130 Available from Vionic shoes

Nurturing our homes with

tried and tested

Papershades

Fabulous, unique and, quite frankly, awesome. These are, as the creator herself describes are, ‘a very different lampshade.’ Ros is an artist who specialises in paper collage. Choose from a variety of collections including florals, places, culinary, literary, nostalgia or large. There’s a handy construction guide and easy to follow instructions so you can easily enjoy your beautiful papershades, perfect to bring some snazz to any room.

Papershades, £30. Available from papershades.co.uk

OceanSaver EcoDrops

This is a 100% plastic free, plant-based cleaning brand, on a mission to get everyone to banish single use plastic from home cleaning routines to preserve our oceans for future generations. They’ve taken a stand, by making really effective, plastic-free, plant-based home cleaning solutions, with all the power and none of the pollution. Unlike conventional cleaning brands, they don’t ship water. Simply drop the cleaner into the bottle, add water, shake & clean. Et voila!

The Everyday Essentials Starter Collection £17.50. Available from OceanSaver or find your nearest stockist here.

***GIVEAWAY***

Would you like to get your hands on a bounty of items featured above. We love to share, so that’s why we’ve put together a massive giveaway to win almost £500 worth of prizes! Would you like to win…

12 x Esmeralda Non-Alcoholic Cerveza + 1 x Giftboxed Mockingbird Spirit 70cl 

1 x bottle of Tuscan Tree

1 x bottle of Bella Italia

12 x Good Fibrations snack bars

12 x packs of mixed Jack Link’s jerky

1 x Leg Master

1 x box of Trade to Aid reusable pads

A supply of Hada Labo Tokyo™ Anti Aging Sheet Masks

1 x Beeutiful B-Rose Facial Balm

1 x set of Thicktails Shampoo, Conditioner and thickening spray

1 x plainandsimple T-shirt

1 x Feather and Bloom headband

1 x £20 gift card to spend at Tillets Clothing

1 x Cozi Hoodie

1 x pair of Vionic Shoes

1 x Papershades lampshade

1 x OceanSaver starter pack

PHEW! That is indeed a MASSIVE giveaway! and you can enter it over on our Instagram as soon as it launches.

Follow us on Instagram now to be the first to find out and enter.

Hormones in your 40s: Here’s what you need to know

Hormones – something most of us pretty much take for granted until they start to wreck havoc in our lives. Truth is, my struggle with hormones began much earlier than most when I had to have my thryoid removed due to precancerous cells in my thirties, and then again after the birth of my daughter. Having been on the receiving side of plenty of grief with my hormones, I am hugely respectful of them, and know just how important it is to understand them if we want to feel okay within ourselves. But what about hormones in your 40s? Well, that is a whole other chapter, right my friends?

During my thirties when I felt so bad I felt that I was actually going mad, it was The Marion Gluck Clinic that came to the resuce. They righted the wrong that nobody else seemed to be able to understand, and for that I am every thankful. That’s why this World Menopause Day, I really wanted to work together with them – as a world-leader specialising in hormone balancing therapy using bioidentical hormones – to produce this quick guide to hormones in your 40s.

It is both a privilege and honour that we have Dr Marion Gluck – Hormone and Women’s Health Specialist and Founder of The Marion Gluck Clinic – herself to share her incredible knowledge on the subject of hormones in your 40s.

Can you explain what exactly happens to women’s hormones their 40s?

From around the age of 40 ovaries will slowly lose their function and the effects of hormonal change starts to become evident as the body makes the natural transition to menopause. This phase is called the perimenopause, and the reproductive hormones, most significantly estrogen and progesterone, start to decrease.

When women are perimenopausal it is likely they will notice symptoms but will still have their period.  During this time, hormones will start to fluctuate on a big scale. There could be some months when ovulation occurs and then there could be some when it doesn’t. It’s a time of extremes and as a result, can cause dramatic mood swings and extreme symptoms. It can be a very difficult time for women because they often don’t understand what’s going on and just don’t feel themselves.

The ‘normal’ age for perimenopause varies. Most will become aware of the transition when they reach their mid to late forties, but some women can begin to experience symptoms of perimenopause as early as the age of 35. Often the timing of this phase is similar to the time when a woman’s mother went through the same transition. That being said, the length of time and severity of menopause-related symptoms for any individual woman cannot be predicted, and every menopause is unique. Genetic and environmental factors are an important factor in determining when a woman may enter the menopause.

Hormones in your 40s

What sort of knock-on effects do these changes have in relation to our bodies and minds?

Although some women will sail through perimenopause, many will experience symptoms ranging from mild to severe. Those who experience severe symptoms often find it impacts on quality of life. Signs of perimenopause are many and varied. Symptoms can include:

  • Irregular periods
  • Periods that are heavier or lighter than usual
  • Low libido
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • PMS
  • Fatigue
  • Hot flushes
  • Insomnia
  • Weight gain
  • Anger and irritability
  • Heart palpitations
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Memory loss
  • Night sweats
  • Dysfunctional uterine bleeding
  • Anaemia
  • Bloating
  • Fluid retention
  • Breast tenderness
  • Aches and painful joints
  • Frequent headaches
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Dry skin

Can you share some insider tips on how to manage

a) Sleep problems

A good night’s sleep is the best treat your body can ask for, especially when perimenopausal or menopausal. Good sleep helps to balance blood sugar, reduces the risk of heart disease, helps maintain a healthy weight, reduces inflammation, boosts the immune system, increases energy and concentration, and reduces anxiety. There are several factors that can affect sleep such as stress, hormonal changes, diet, and inflammation to name a few. For better sleep try the following:

– Regular moderate exercise is an excellent way to support good sleep. 

– Try limiting your alcohol intake, particularly in the evenings. Too much alcohol can have a detrimental effect on sleep quality as it reduces REM sleep (the restorative part of the sleep cycle) and can interrupt the circadian rhythm, a study has shown.

– Avoid foods containing a substance called tyramine, particularly in the evening, as this causes the release of norepinephrine, a brain stimulant. Foods with high content of tyramine include aged cheeses, red wine, some beers, cured meats, and smoked fish.

– If you are experiencing or have experienced prolonged periods of stress in the past, it may be recommended to get your daily cortisol pattern checked (a qualified medical professional or naturopath can help you with that). A disrupted cortisol pattern can affect your energy levels as well as sleep. If this is the case, a class of herbs known as adaptogens can be of great help.

– Getting your daily boost of sunshine is the way forward to better sleep. This is because we need sunlight to keep our circadian rhythm going, which tells our bodies when it is time to sleep and to be awake. Sunlight also plays a role in Vitamin D production, which is essential for so many aspects of our health.

Hormones in your 40s

b) Spots

The skin contains estrogen receptors, as well as receptors for progesterone and testosterone. Therefore, deficiencies of these three hormones contribute to skin aging, in both men and women and results in the skin becomes more prone to sun damage, pimples and rashes, and can be easily irritated.

Acne, which is usually a curse of adolescence (teenage acne) can also occur for the first time later in life (adult onset acne). All acne is hormone related but when we talk about ‘hormonal acne’ we typically refer to adult female acne.

Hormonal acne tends to affect more the lower part of the face and adult female acne can present with cyclical outbreaks and is usually more resistant to the standard treatments. Adult female acne can be caused by different hormonal imbalances such as raised male androgens or an imbalance

When experiencing female acne it is recommended that the woman complete hormone profiling to help determine which hormones require rebalancing. A bespoke treatment plan can then be actioned to target their needs. Prescription hormone face creams can also be used to improve female acne. Unlike commercially available skincare products, prescription creams are formulated to cater to the individual, addressing specific concerns.

c) Brain drain/Lethargy

Many women describe experiencing ‘brain fog’ during perimenopause and menopause and think that symptoms such as forgetfulness and increased anxiety are signs of them getting old or ‘going mad’. However, many of these symptoms can be attributed to the hormonal changes that take place during menopause.

Research has shown that certain lifestyle modifications can have a positive impact on cognitive function during menopause.  A recent study found that cognitive training, for example, doing puzzles or learning a new skill, improved people’s memory. Practising mindfulness and doing exercises, such as yoga and Tai Chi have also proved to be effective for improving cognitive function, partly through their stress-reducing qualities.

A balanced diet, low in sugar, caffeine and alcohol, is also recommended. Studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet, full of ‘good fats’ and fresh produce, is particularly beneficial for cognitive function.

Sleep is also vital as it removes toxins from the brain and quality, deep sleep enables memory consolidation and information processing from the day. Limiting screen time at night is essential as the blue light emitted from devices causes decreased levels of melatonin, the sleep hormone.

Hormones in your 40s

What other options are out there for balancing hormones in your 40s?

If you’d rather not take hormone replacement therapy, then there are some natural alternatives you can try. One suggestion is Agnus Castus which is said to break down excessive hormones and rebalance them. The other widely known remedy is Evening Primrose oil which many people swear helps relieve menopausal and perimenopausal symptoms.

What are some signs you should not ignore when it comes to hormonal imbalance?

An optimal balance of hormones is vital to overall wellbeing including brain function, cardiovascular health, bones, vaginal and urethral health. We use bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT), an alternative to HRT, to replenish these hormones to your optimal levels in order to maintain health, energy, mood and brain function. Any symptoms that affect quality of life, or brain or body function, should be checked by a professional.

When should women seek professional help?

As women move through each phase of perimenopause and menopause, hormone levels can fluctuate significantly causing hormonal imbalance. These vital hormones, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone remain important for bones, vaginal and urethral health, skin, brain function and cardiovascular health. It is therefore important to effectively balance and replenish these hormones in order to maintain health, energy, mood and brain function.

Menopause may be something all women go through, but that doesn’t mean there is a ‘one size fits all’ treatment path. Every woman is unique, and their symptoms will be unique too. Women should seek help if their symptoms are having a detrimental impact on their life, and they feel unable to achieve tasks that before were commonplace. By looking at the whole picture, including lifestyle factors, nutrition and family medical history with a professional, a tailored treatment plan can be produced.

Have you experienced any of the above knock on effects of hormones in your 40s? Do leave a comment below and share your experiences and join our community on Instagram here where we’ll be keeping the conversation going.

About The Marion Gluck Clinic

The Marion Gluck Clinic is the UK’s leading medical clinic that pioneered the use of bioidentical hormones to treat menopause, perimenopause and other hormone related issues. Headed up by Dr. Marion Gluck herself, the clinic uses her method of bioidentical hormonal treatment to rebalance hormones to improve wellbeing, quality of life and to slow down ageing. 

Hair photo created by lookstudio, clock vector created by freepik, woman photo created by karlyukav, Hand photo created by 8photo

10 ways to build a healthy mindset

In case you have been living under a rock of late, you will know that mental health has become a humungous issue. But here’s the real doozy. In our 40s we need to pay more attention to our mental health and creating a healthy mindset than ever before. Why? Simply because women aged between 40 and 44 years old are five times as likely to suffer with depression compared with younger women. Sheesh….well aren’t we the lucky ones?

So. Here’s the bottom line. Mindset is the foundation of your mental health. So a healthy mindset = good mental health. Thankfully, it’s never too late to change your mindset, and use it as the foundation to bullet proof your mental health. In fact, your fourth decade is the perfect time to change your life and live differently and that all starts with – yup you guessed it – mindset.

Want to build a heathy mindset and reap the benefits? Well, quite honestly who is going to ever answer no to that?! In your 40s you can either choose to a) make progress or b) make excuses. Those of you who fancy a bit of a) come closer as we share 10 ways to build a healthy mindset in your 40s courtesy of Nick Bracks, author of Move Your Mind: How to Build a Healthy Mindset for Life:

Move Your Mind

Simple movement can make all of the difference. Find a small space at home and do at least 15 minutes of exercise. It can be anything…push ups, lunges, skipping…just move at your own pace! 

Feed Your Mind

Make sure (to the best of your ability) that you are eating well and drinking enough water. Also make note of the content you are feeding your mind with (social media, news etc) and discipline yourself to only spend a certain amount of time per day on them.

Connect Your Mind

Call your best friend or a loved one (or a few of them) and offload your stress. Make it clear that they can do the same to you. Being heard can go a long way. And if you are feeling adventurous, spark a conversation with a stranger and see where it leads!

Still Your Mind

Take 5 minutes or more a day to sit with your thoughts. There is no perfect way to do this…you can use a mantra, focus on breathing, or use an app (there are hundreds of free ones online). Just give yourself the time out. Also, stress can affect our sleep patterns. If we follow the healthy behaviours above, we will sleep better and in turn have less stress.

Make it a habit

If we do not create daily habits we will not make long term change in our behaviours. Start by picking the most important thing you want to change and do it regularly for a month. You will be surprised how much change happens in a small amount of time and will become empowered to create other new habits.

Change it up

We can get caught in a rut as time goes by. Humans really are creatures of habit. But it doesn’t have to be this way. If we stay conscious about things we want to change and don’t allow ourselves to just go through the motions we will keep ourselves feeling fresh and vibrant.

Do things that scare you

As above, by doing things that scare us we keep our sense of adventure alive. What is something you have always wanted to do but have been too scared? I am sure you won’t regret it if you give it a go.

Reframe how you look at failure

As I discuss in my book, we often view things as either ‘succeeding’ or ‘failing’. If we can reframe that into ‘succeeding’ or ‘learning something’ then we will be more likely to take risks as it becomes a win win.

Challenge stereotypes

We are told by society that we should be married, have a certain job, live in a certain place, have kids etc by a particular age. But why? Who actually decided this? It makes no sense at all. Sure if someone else wants that then good on them, but we get to set our own system of what a successful life means. Ignore what others think and live life the way you want…at any age.

Surround yourself with people that inspire you

It really is true that we become a product of the five people we spend most of our time with. As time goes by we can get stuck spending time with people who no longer serve us. Challenge this and assess those around you. If people are no longer serving you then maybe it is time to look at meeting new and more like minded people.

How are you trying to build a healthy mindset in your 40s? Do share in a comment below and connect with us on Instagram here where we will be continuing the conversation.

NICK BRACKS is the author of Move Your Mind: How to Build a Healthy Mindset for Life (published by Wiley). He has pursued various entrepreneurial projects since earning a Bachelor of Business at RMIT. He has successfully launched five companies including founding his eponymous men’s underwear label, underBRACKS; a successful restaurant venture; co-founding a nutritional supplements company; and co-founding Happy Waves. Nick has presented two TED Talks – one covering how creative and entrepreneurial drive can help combat depression, and a second on the growing suicide epidemic.

Nick now spends his time creating educational content through his Move Your Mind podcast and courses. Nick’s professional life and personal development are perfectly intertwined. He lives between Australia and the United States.  

Photos by Binti Malu, Karolina Grabowska, Nina Uhlíková from Pexels

How to check your breasts for lumps

Righto ladies, today in this second part of our Breast Cancer Awareness month series we are going to talk boobs – specifically, how to check your breasts for lumps. Sadly, in this country we are woefully behind on understanding how, when, why and where we should be copping a feel of our jugs so that we can check your breasts for lumps.

I became painfully aware of this when I recently tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation responsible for hereditary breast cancer in my family. Embarassed to realise that I probably hadn’t checked my boobs since life before the ‘vid, I got a rude awakening when I realised I had absolutely no idea what I was doing on the breast feeling front.

So with that said, this Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we have together this in depth guide on how to check your breasts for lumps with Dr Deborah Lee of Dr Fox Online Pharmacy. Remember ladies, knowledge is power and our breasts deserve more than just the occassional squeeze during a mid life romp.

And if you missed it don’t forget to catch on part one of our breast cancer series where we clear up all the things you wanted to know about breast cancer but never dared ask as well as common breast cancer misconceptions.

check your breasts for lumps

The 40 Now What guide on how to check your breasts for lumps

The best time to check your breasts

Breastcancer.org recommends you check your breasts once a month, a few days after your period has come to an end. This means that any premenstrual breast pain and tenderness should have settled. If you are not having periods, which could be for many reasons, choose a day – say the 1st day of each calendar month – to do this.

The best place to check your breasts

The best place to carry out your breast examination is in your bedroom or bathroom, where it is warm and private, and you have a mirror in which you can see your whole upper body, and a good light. You need to feel relaxed, confident and unhurried, and be able to get a good view of both breasts. You also need to be near your bed so you can examine your breasts sitting up and lying down.

How to check your breasts step by step

Undress completely to the waist, and stand in front of the mirror, so you can see your whole chest and both breasts. Stand square in front of the mirror and look at your breasts. It is normal for one to be slightly larger than the other.

Look at the shape and contours of both breasts. Look at the nipples. Is there any irregularity in the outline of the breasts, or any unusual dimpling or puckering of the skin, especially around the nipple area? Are there any red areas, swelling or rashes?

Next, slowly raise both arms above your head and hold them there, as you continue watching carefully in the mirror. The breasts should change shape in a symmetrical fashion. Again, can you see any changes in the breast as described above? Look under the armpits too. Now lower your arms to the resting position. Have you noticed any discharge from either nipple – this could be clear, milky, or blood-stained?

Your next step is to lie on the bed and put one hand behind your head and with the other, use the flat of your fingers to examine each breast. Feel round all four quarters of the breast rolling the tissue gently under your fingers against your ribs. Be careful around and under the nipple area, and make sure you feel right round under the arm into your armpit, and across the entire chest wall from the upper abdomen to the collarbone. You need to use a medium to firm pressure, but it should not be painful. Then change hands and examine the other breast.

Next, sit on the edge of the bed. Keep your arms by your side. Feel right around each breast carefully, including behind the nipple, into the armpit and up into the collarbone.

What to look out for

By doing self-breast examination, you will get to know what your breasts normally feel like, and this will hopefully mean you can notice quickly if anything changes.

You need to look out for any changes in the shape or contour of the breast, along with any puckering or dimpling of the skin, especially around the nipple. If you find a breast lump, try not to panic. Breasts can feel lumpy especially before a period. Benign breasts lumps such as breast cysts are very common. Check for any nipple discharge. Always remember to feel right round and into the armpit.

The average breast cancer is around 1 cm in diameter when it is felt in the breast – about the size of a kidney bean. However, the size of breast tumours does vary from smaller, to much larger. They can also increase in size quite quickly. They are usually mobile and not fixed in one place unless the disease has become advanced. Most breast cancers are painless.

check your breasts for lumps
Check4Cancer is available via myGP, the UK’s largest independent healthcare management app

Don’t panic

If you find a breast lump, try not to panic. Around 80% of breast lumps are benign (noncancerous) – however, anything that is not normal for you, should be reported promptly to your GP.

Common benign lumps include –

  • Breast cysts – the breast is a gland- the mammary gland – consisting of lobules that can fill with fluid to form a cyst. The cysts will feel a bit like a squashy balloon. These can be aspirated with a needle and a syringe.
  • Fibroadenoma – These are benign tumours made of glandular and connective tissue, that often feel hard and gritty. They tend to be near the surface of the breast. They are often removed with a lumpectomy – usually to check the pathology and ensure they are benign.
  • Fibroadenosis – this is just a general lumpiness you can often feel in the breast, which is sometimes a bit tender and often worse before a period. Sometimes on a mammogram the are contains calcification.
  • Mastitis – this is a painful infection in the breast. It is often related to breastfeeding. Although generally benign, it does need to be distinguished from an inflammatory breast cancer.
  • Sclerosing adenosis – a small painful lump that develops due to overgrowth of breast lobules.
  • Duct ectasia – this is common in the premenopausal and menopausal period, when the milk ducts around the nipple become clogged and the tissue shrinks. The nipples can be retracted inwards.
  • Fat necrosis – this can occur usually as a result of surgery when scar tissue causes a hard lump that may be associated with a nipple discharge.

There are some other benign conditions that can occur in the breasts such as lipomas (fatty lumps), and haematomas (bruises – a collection of blood under the skin).

There are also a range of premalignant conditions which need to be picked up and removed before they become malignant. Examples include intraductal papillomas, ductal hyperplasia and ductal carcinoma in situ.

Unfortunately, having benign breast disease does increase our lifetime risk of breast cancer. It is imperative you continue to check your breasts regularly throughout your lifetime and attend regularly for breast cancer screening when you are invited.

Getting to know your breasts

Breastcancer.org suggests you need to get to know ‘the different neighbourhoods of the breast.’ They say the upper outer portion of the breast is the area likely to be the easiest to feel, in terms of lumps and bumps. They describe the lower half of the breast feels like a sandy or pebbly beach, and that the area under the nipple feels like a collection of large grains. Other parts of the breast, they say, may feel like lumpy oatmeal. Having examined many breasts in my working lifetime, I really like these analogies.

The idea here is not to be afraid of your body. You need to love and respect it and know every nook and cranny. You are the best person to notice if something is wrong. Don’t be fearful of checking your breasts. If there is any abnormality, the sooner you get this checked out at the GP surgery, the quicker you can get on and have treatment.

check your breasts for lumps

What else you need to know

Caring for yourself is vitally important. When you reach the age of 50, please go and have your breast screening mammograms. Breast cancer screening saves 1 life for every 200 women screened. This means the programme saves 1300 lives every year.

Breast cancer screening has the advantage of detecting cancers early, meaning they can often be treated with  minimal surgery. 80% of women whose cancers are picked up with screening mammograms, have lumpectomy and if needed, radiotherapy, meaning they do not need to undergo a full mastectomy.

At the moment, breast cancer screening in the UK starts at 47, meaning all women should get their first invitation before the age of 50, and continues every 3 years, until the age of 70 years. Over the age of 70 women can still request a 3 yearly mammogram – they just don’t get an automatic invitation. However, Breastcancer.org has always recommended breast cancer screening should start at age 40.

Unfortunately, screening mammograms are not 100% accurate and can result in overdiagnosis of breast cancer, resulting in unnecessary investigations and sometimes surgery. So, it’s not as simple as just a blanket recommendation to screen women at younger and younger ages. Also, breast cancers can occur during the 3 year screening interval, which is why continuing to examine your breasts regularly is so important.

For the best outcome, women need to be familiar with their own breasts and be able to spot quickly if something has changed or is not quite right. Once this has been reported to the GP, they can be fast-tracked if needed to the Breast Clinic for further investigation and treatment.

For more information

So go on, cop a feel….it could just save your life.

Picture credits: Photos by Jan Kopřiva , Olya Kobruseva & Anna Tarazevich from Pexels

Breast cancer: what you’ve always wanted to know + misconceptions to avoid

Breast cancer has been a hot topic in our household since I recently tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation responsible for hereditary breast cancer in our family. And as I started having more and more conversations around breast cancer, I realised just how many breast cancer misconceptions many of us had been duped by somewhere along the line. Well, it is no wonder seeing as we live in an era of fake news is it really?

But that stops here because this Breast Cancer Awareness month, the team at 40 Now What decided that it’s time to set the record straight in our two part series on breast cancer.

In part one we’ll be taking a sledgehammer to all those breast cancer misconceptions with insights from Daniel Leff, Consultant in Oncoplastic Breast Surgery at King Edward VII’s Hospital and Dr Petra Simic, Medical Director at Bupa UK Insurance. In part two, we’ll be getting underneath the hood so to speak with a detailed guide on how to check your breasts and everything you need to know in order to become your boobs’ best friend and safeguarder with Dr Deborah Lee of the Dr Fox Online Pharmacy.

The things you wanted to know about breast cancer but never dared ask

Here, Mr Daniel Leff, Consultant in Oncoplastic Breast Surgery at King Edward VII’s Hospital in London takes us through all the things you always wanted to know about breast cancer but were too scared to ask.

He says: “In my practice I see a lot of patients who have been holding off from asking questions because they’re embarrassed or are worried about what I’ll think.

“But I always encourage my patients to come forward with whatever’s on their mind, rather than holding the question in or trying to search the internet for the answer. There’s plenty of misinformation out there and often you’ll come across myths that might make you feel worse, or worry unnecessarily, so it’s always best to speak to a medical professional if you have any concerns.”

If a family member has had breast cancer, will I get it too?

There are lots of different risk factors for breast cancer. Some of these factors are genetic and some are environmental, so often it’s hard to say exactly why someone has developed a cancer – it could be due to multiple factors.

There are some genetic factors that we do know about – for example some families carry the BRCA 1 or 2 genes which raise the risk of some cancers, including breast and ovarian cancer in women and male breast cancer and prostate cancer in men.

If you have potential breast cancer symptoms and there is a history of breast, ovarian, prostate or pancreatic cancer in your family, it’s definitely worth seeking medical advice.

I’ve heard that being on the contraceptive pill (or taking HRT) could give you breast cancer?

There is some scientific research showing that people who take the contraceptive pill have a slightly higher chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer than people who have never taken it. But there are lots of other factors involved, including your family history as well as lifestyle factors such as the amount of alcohol you drink, being overweight, or previously having had radiation therapy.

There are some studies that show a link between taking HRT and a slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer in post-menopausal women – but only if you have taken it for longer than a year. And this risk starts to decrease when you stop taking it.

Should people who have had breast augmentation surgery be more worried?

There’s not enough evidence to know whether breast implants are a risk factor in breast cancer.

But a myth that I often hear is that breast implants make it impossible to detect or diagnose breast cancer. Happily, this is completely untrue. When it comes to self-examinations though, there are some different techniques to use. For example, people who have breast implants may want to lie down and feel for the implant, then feel carefully and gently for their ribs underneath to check for lumps.

When standing, it’s important to check for changes to the appearance of the breasts such as swelling, colour changes, rashes or puckering, by looking in the mirror. Try this both with arms raised and arms by the sides to help check for changes.

Are mammograms painful?

Everyone’s perception of pain is different. However, is it is true that some people find having a mammograms uncomfortable, but few find it very painful. We try to make the process as pain-free as possible, and depending on what exactly is needed to help with a diagnosis, we can numb the area too.

What I would say is that techniques are improving all the time, so I’d try not to let preconceptions or other people’s experiences put you off. If there’s something that you’re worried about it’s always important to get checked rather than delaying seeking help, as this could mean less invasive treatment later down the line.

Is it true that mammograms don’t work on younger people?

Breast cancer mainly occurs in people over 50, and it’s rare in people in their 20s and 30s, but that doesn’t mean that younger people shouldn’t be vigilant. The majority of lumps in younger people are totally benign lumps called fibroadenomas – which may feel hard and rubbery – but your GP may refer you to a breast clinic for a scan or biopsy to make sure.

It is true that mammograms are used more to diagnose breast cancer in older patients – because the breast tissue tends to be less dense, making it easier to detect on the mammogram. But we have lots of other very successful techniques to diagnose breast cancer in younger patients, such as ultrasound examinations.

Does nipple discharge indicate cancer?

In most cases, nipple discharge that comes only from pressure or massage from multiple points on the nipple from  both sides of the breast is normal, and  this type of discharge on its own isn’t usually a sign of breast cancer. It might just be something that happens from time to time, especially after giving birth or while breastfeeding, or it might be caused by widening of the ducts  or a benign lump, or as a side effect of a medication. 

But there are some signs that there may be something more serious going on. If fluid leaks out regularly, or spontaneously (without you pressing or squeezing the nipple) or is blood stained, then that can be a warning sign. And if you’re over 50 and / or have other symptoms like a lump, pain, swelling or a non-itchy rash on one breast, you should seek medical help.

It’s important to note that nipple discharge in men isn’t normal, so men who notice fluid coming from their nipples should make an appointment with their GP. And the main point I’d make here is that if something is worrying you, get it checked out.

Is it still possible to get breast cancer treatment during COVID?

If you have symptoms that you’re worried about, it’s important to still seek help. Lots of doctors are now conducting appointments over the phone or over video call, so it might be possible to reassure you without having to go to a GP surgery or hospital in person.

If a physical examination is necessary, medical staff have taken every precaution to keep patients safe. There might be some new rules to follow when you attend your appointment, so make sure you read any letters or correspondence carefully.

7 breast cancer misconceptions to avoid

Misinformation about breast cancer floods the internet and social media. Here, Dr Petra Simic, Medical Director at Bupa UK Insurance sets the record straight by separating fact from fiction.

Myth 1: Finding a lump in your breast is always cancerous

If you notice a lump in your breast, it’s very important to get this checked by your doctor; a lump or change to the feel or appearance of your breasts should never be ignored. However, not all lumps are cancer – but they do need to be checked out.

It can be difficult opening up about your breast health; perhaps you’re worried about wasting your doctor’s time, or you may be nervous or embarrassed to tell them about how you’re feeling.

However, it’s always best to reach out to your doctor for anything unusual. Your healthcare professional will want to hear about any changes you are concerned about.

Myth 2: I should check my breasts on the same day of every month

You should check your breasts whenever it’s convenient for you. It’s important to get to know what is normal for you to help notice any changes. A good time to check your breasts can be when you’re in the shower or bath. You should speak to your GP about any changes to how your breasts feel or look.

Myth 3: If I check my breasts regularly, I don’t need a mammogram

It’s important that you check your breasts regularly and attend your female health appointments. A mammogram is a type of X-ray that can help find breast cancer at an early stage when treatment is most successful.

Anyone registered with a GP as female will be invited for NHS breast screening every three years between the ages of 50 and 71. Cancers found during a mammogram may have been too small to see or be difficult to feel, meaning you may not have noticed a change in appearance or touch.

Myth 4: Wearing a bra can cause cancer

There is no evidence that wearing a bra causes breast cancer. The theory behind this misconception focuses on wearing an underwired bra, and a theory that the wiring restricts the flow of lymph fluid out of the breast. There is no scientific evidence to support this theory.

However, it is important that you wear a correctly fitting bra as not wearing the right sized or supportive bra can lead to breast pain.

Myth 5: Breast cancer is only a problem which affects women

This isn’t true: whilst each year in the UK, 55,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer, 350 men are also diagnosed each year. Although this is a much smaller number in comparison to women, it’s still important for men to report any changes to their doctor.  

Having a close male family member (brother or father) with a history of breast cancer can mean you have a higher risk of having breast cancer, so make sure this information is shared with family members, or any medical professional if you are having breast issues. 

Myth 6: I don’t have any symptoms, so I don’t need to attend screening appointments or health check ups

Female health checks and cancer screening across all ages are there to detect any early signs of abnormalities and cancer. It’s important to attend all your female health checks and to know how to identify important changes in your own body.

Even if you’re showing no unusual symptoms, you should attend your checks and screening appointments as these can detect abnormalities before you start showing any symptoms. Early detection is key to effectively treating cancers; attending all appointments – even if you’re feeling well – is vital.

Myth 7: I have a breast lump and I am due my routine screening mammogram, so I don’t need to see a doctor

Not all breast cancers are apparent on mammogram. If you’ve found a breast abnormality you need to see your doctor, as you may need other tests in addition to a mammogram to rule out breast cancer.

Mammograms are designed for women without any symptoms and will pick up around 4 in 5 breast cancers.  They aren’t 100% accurate in showing if a person has breast cancer, so it shouldn’t replace seeing your GP if you have new symptoms.

If you’ve had a normal mammogram and subsequently find a lump or a change, it’s important you also see your GP just as urgently, as you may need an ultrasound scan or other tests to rule out breast cancer. 

Breast cancer is not an easy topic to talk about, but it is important to guard against fake, misleading and ill-informed medical information that potentially poses significant risks. Help us fight back against misinformation by sharing this article with your friends and family today and connect with us on Instagram here where we’ll be continuining the conversation on all things breast cancer this month.

Photos by Klaus Nielsen & Olya Kobruseva from Pexels

I tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation and here’s how I felt

From a young an age as I can remember, I was always aware that my family was riddled with cancer. Practically every other person in my dad’s family had been marred by it, and both my paternal grandparents had died of it. But until I hit my 4th decade, all of this seemed like something fuzzy and distant that didn’t really apply to me. I didn’t even know what the hell the BRCA1 gene (otherwise known as a tumour suppressor gene), so why should I care.

Oh my dear father

Then last year, due to the fact that my dad had to have a couple of melanomas removed, pieces were starting to be put together. Despite the BRCA1 gene not being linked to melanoma, the medics started paying attention to our family history of cancer, and so did I.

My father was sent for genetic testing. For some reason I still felt a bit detached from what was going on. Even as he told me that he had tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation, I still felt pretty nonchalent about the whole thing. After all, about 1% or 1 in 100 men who carry BRCA1 develop breast cancer. Some studies suggest there may be a slight increase in the risk of prostate cancer, but this is not conclusive.

But then the penny dropped

…as I realised that I would have a 50% chance of having the BRCA1 gene mutation, and so at a flip of a coin, my breast and ovarian cancer skyrocketed. Women with the faulty BRCA1 gene, for example, have a 65 to 79% lifetime risk of breast cancer and a 36 to 63% risk of ovarian cancer before the age of 80.

In the back of my mind, I guess I already knew I would have the mutation. I had my thyroid removed due to the discovery of pre-cancerous cells around ten years ago (there is evidence to show a link between thyroid cancer and the gene mutation). But still I remained calm, until I had my pre-test consultation where the harsh reality of a worst case scenarios double mascetomy and having my ovaries ripped out came and smacked my full throttle in the face. But what really got me? That if I did test positive, my daughter would then also have a 50% chance of having the mutation that would then also put her at risk. That’s when the tears started pouring.

Fast forward on a couple of weeks

I saw the letter from The Royal Marsden on my door matt. I wasn’t ready for the results yet. I left it on the stairs for another week. My sister got in touch to tell me she was negative, and right then I knew – I would be that other flip of the coin, the loser in this game of genetic russian roulette.

I prepared myself mentally. I opened the letter, and there it was. As I had suspected all along, I was positive.

I slid into a dark mood

For a few days, I needed to wallow. I didn’t really want to talk to anybody about it. I just needed to process everything. Although I knew I was priviliged to have this information because I would now be on watch and routinely screened, I reeled from the injustice of it all. Hadn’t I had enough shit with my existing health conditions? The total thyroidectomy and the hormonal calamity it unleashed on my body for years after? The metabolic carnage I experienced as my system reeled from a rare condition usually found in diabetics (of which I am not) called reactive hypoglycemia? And now this shadow hanging over me.

And then there was my daughter. Already the letter was urging me to have her tested, at eight years old. I just couldn’t fathom telling her, of passing on this burden to her, and why should I at some a young and beautifully innocent age?

Then a chance to rewrite the script

And then I realised. This thing has been in me all along. And this is my chance to rewrite the script. To get tested, to live life to the fullest because who knows what might happen when. To break out of this dumbed down and restricted Covid sleepwalking state we have all been stuck in for far too long. To cut out meat and dairy from my diet as I had increasingly been trying to do. To stay fit and healthy. And to not let other people’s shit stress me out. All lifestyle factors which can play into the hands of the risk lying within.

I can’t change things the results, but I can change what I do with them and how I approach it all. I either let this weigh me down like an Albatross round my neck, or I use it as a force for good, and remember that I am one of the privilged few to have this information. Because after all knowledge is power, power is wisdom, and I’m going to use that wisdom to change my life for the better.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels, Brett Sayles from Pexels