Actress Martine McCutcheon knows a thing or two about the value of good health. After years of battling illness which drove her into a deep depression, the mum of one, 41, now makes looking after her wellbeing a top priority.
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“When your health goes, you just lose so much which is why I put so much work into staying as well as possible,” says Martine, who is best known for appearing in TV’s EastEnders and box-office hit film Love Actually.
The popular Loose Women panellist has opened up in recent months about her long battles with depression, ME and Lyme disease.
And she credits her son Rafferty, two, and husband, singer songwriter Jack McManus, with giving her the happiness she has always craved and the incentive to get her health back on track.
The star has been plagued by health problems over the years
“I absolutely love motherhood, it’s the best thing in the world,” she says.
Martine became a household name after joining EastEnders in 1995 to play Tiffany Mitchell and her character’s death on New Year’s Eve in 1998 was watched by 22 million viewers, turning her into a household name. She went on to launch a successful pop career with six top 10 singles, including her No 1 hit Perfect Moment.
Yet in the years that followed, a series of illnesses, miscarriages and then bankruptcy all took their toll on her health.
At the time she said: “I’ve had the worst seven years ever. Life felt like hell every day. It has just been one thing after another. I have not been in a nice place in my head, financially nor with my career.”
In 2011 Martine was diagnosed with ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis), a long-term, fluctuating, neurological condition that affects the nervous and immune systems, which at its worst left her confined to a wheelchair and unable to work.
Then a few years ago she developed Lyme disease, which is a bacterial infection spread to humans by infected ticks, tiny bugs that can be as small as a poppy seed.
Martine believes she may have been bitten after lying on the grass in Richmond Park in south west London which is home to deer and foxes, which both carry ticks.
The key to regaining her health was plenty of fresh air and exercise
“I visited the doctor a few days later because I felt really tired and lethargic. It was only afterwards I found a massive circular rash on my back, like a dartboard,” she says. Some people with early-stage Lyme disease develop the distinctive circular rash at the site of the tick bite, usually between three and 30 days after being bitten.
The disease can cause flu-like symptoms in the early stages, such as tiredness, muscle pain, headaches, fever, chills and neck stiffness.
Bella Hadid and her mother Yolanda, Kelly Osbourne and Avril Lavigne all have the condition. If treated early with antibiotics, it can be cured. Left untreated, it becomes chronic.
More serious symptoms which may develop several weeks, months or even years later, include pain and swelling of the joints, problems affecting the nervous system, facial paralysis, memory problems and difficulty concentrating.
Martine says that the key to regaining her health and energy levels was to get back to basics by revamping her diet to include fresh, healthy foods and plenty of fresh air and exercise.
Although Lyme disease can play havoc with her weight, she recently lost a stone by following the Cambridge Weight Plan, a diet that consists of meal replacement bars and shakes and now keeps trim by eating sensibly. “Since I need to get through until lunchtime, I usually start the day with porridge,” she explains.
With Love Actually co-star Hugh Grant
“I also swear by green juice, which I make at least once a day using spinach, cucumber, celery and a green apple to sweeten it. I might wake up feeling sore and aching but green juice keeps those aches away and I wouldn’t be without it now. “I know now that if you’re living on adrenaline and keeping going on coffee and energy drinks, not eating proper meals and having too much sugar, it can make you feel unwell.
“Now I’m a great believer in back to basics – fresh fruit and vegetables, almonds and a good meal with protein and fresh vegetables to look forward to in the evening.” She also follows a regular programme of gym visits and energetic walks. “Since we live in Surrey, we love going for long walks in the hills,” she says.
“And having a good brisk walk to the station when I’m going to London means I can easily rack up 9,000 steps a day without realising I’m exercising.”
One potential future issue she is keen to keep an eye on is high cholesterol. “It runs in my family,” explains Martine.
“My mum has it and so does my auntie and younger brother Laurence – so I’m horribly aware that it might one day be a problem for me too. My mum has diabetes and when there is diabetes in the family you need to keep your cholesterol levels down.”
Cholesterol is a fatty substance which is mainly made by the liver, and is vital for the body to function normally. Yet high levels can build up in the arteries, leading to them narrowing, which can increase the risk of stroke and heart attack. Blood cholesterol is measured in units called millimoles per litre of blood, often shortened to mmol/L.
When she last had her levels checked Martine’s was 4.5mmol/L – below the recommended level of 5mmol/L or less for healthy adults but above the level of 4mmol/L or less which is recommended for those at high risk. Doctors usually recommend the first step in reducing cholesterol is to switch to a low-fat diet, take exercise and give up smoking.
If these measures don’t work, a cholesterol-lowering medication such as a statin may be prescribed.
Alongside her healthy diet, Martine started eating Betavivo, a special cholesterol-lowering cereal that contains beta-glucans and plant sterols which occur naturally in plant-based foods.
“My mum spotted them and volunteered to help me take them too – she said she was the one with the problem, because her cholesterol levels are up at seven,” says Martine who next month releases her first album in 17 years.
“We know so much more about food and healthy eating now than we did 30 years ago and it’s so easy to eat healthily and avoid processed food. My mum wishes she’d started years ago. “After years of ill health I’m finally feeling energetic and healthy and have so many projects on the go, as well as keeping up with Rafferty.”
Betavivo costs £14.99 (for 15 sachets) from Holland & Barrett, boots.com and Lloyds Pharmacy, or visit betavivo.co.uk.