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Natural Anti-Ageing Strategies

Natural Anti-Ageing Strategies

Understanding the basis of human ageing is an area of medical research that is growing rapidly.  Age is the most important risk factor for most of the common diseases that we face as we age.  As such, to help slow the course of ageing is one of the great biomedical challenges in our modern times. Following on from this, there has been a lot of attention in recent years on a range of nutrients that can promote health and prevent ageing. So let’s look at the theories of ageing and some of the new darlings of the nutrient world touted to help prevent or slow down ageing.

There are many theories that expound on the process of ageing and even more theories on how to prevent this process. Essentially most researchers agree that ageing starts with molecular or DNA damage. This damage then leads to cell, tissue and eventually organ dysfunction and disease. The best known and most long standing argument for ageing is the free radical theory. Free radicals, also known as ROS (reactive oxygen species), create havoc in the cells and tissues of the body and cause DNA damage and inflammation. Antioxidants are what the body uses to neutralise or scavenge the ROS and thereby repairing or protecting the body from damage.

Mitochondrial function is one area that is now leading the race in new theories and understanding of ageing. The mitochondria influence or regulate a number of key aspects of ageing. These include cellular senescence (when cells stop replicating and become dormant), chronic inflammation and the age-dependent decline in stem cell activity.

mitoMitochondria are like miniature organs that exist in almost all cells of mammals. The mitochondria are essentially like small batteries that are responsible for producing energy in the cell. Dysfunction in the mitochondria is thought to be one of the reasons that we age. The mitochondria itself, during its processes of energy production also produces ROS.  New understanding of how mitochrondria function has created a plethora of health strategies directed at improving mitochondrial quality and function to have far-reaching beneficial effects.

In adults, tissue homeostasis is highly dependent on stem cell (SC) function. These adult SCs are not only essential in continuously-proliferating tissues, like the blood, intestinal and skin systems, but also involved in more dormant tissues, such as skeletal muscle and brain that undergo regeneration only after damage or exposure to disease. Ageing is accompanied by a decline in adult SC function, termed SC senescence, which leads to loss of tissue function and the capacity for regeneration.

So let’s now look at some novel ways that have been shown in research to slow down the ageing process – including specific eating patterns, nutritional supplements and exercise.

The Hidden Benefits of Exercise

pushupIn ageing, skeletal muscle mass decreases from mid-life onwards at the rate of about 1% per year. Along with this loss of mass in our muscles, is a reduction in mitochondrial function. Similarly, muscle strength is also seen to fall with age. However, it can be hard to attribute these changes to ageing per se, as inactivity often accompanies older age groups and will contribute to this functional decline as well. Studies that compare active groups versus sedentary groups always show a much greater deterioration in mitochondrial function in the sedentary groups. It is interesting to ponder whether the deterioration leads to loss in energy production and then levels of fatigue increase which leads to further sedentary behavior.

In any case, we now know that staying active as you get older is an essential component of preventative health and can boost your mitochondrial function. Physical exercise acts to tune up our existing mitochondria but it also has been shown to stimulate the production of new ones, a phenomenon known as mitochondrial biogenesis. This has been best observed in muscle cells -  studies finding the muscles of endurance athletes house very high concentrations of mitochondria. Endurance exercise also stimulates increased ROS scavenging despite the fact that increased exercise can cause some increases in ROS production.

When looking at exercise and ageing, the great news is you don’t have to be a super fit marathon runner to grow new mitochondria. Simply engaging in consistent, regular aerobic activity stimulates your muscle cells to make this adaptation to increased energy demands.

runningHigh intensity interval training, commonly known as HIIT, is by far the best exercise for supporting mitochondrial health and resilience. For many years we have been told to exercise for at least 30-60 minutes to get the benefits but new evidence shows that we can gain the same benefits from HIIT as we do from endurance type training. HIIT training involves low to moderate training (such as walking) with short 30 second bursts of high intensity output (such as running as fast as you can) followed by rest/low intensity.  HIIT has been shown to be much more efficient at promoting fat burning and has numerous benefits on mitochondrial function. HIIT also promotes nitric oxide to be released which keeps the cardiovascular system healthy and lowers the blood pressure.

Eat Less, Live Longer

Calorie restriction (eating less food) is an intervention for which the greatest evidence exists for slowing ageing. It was initially thought that calorie restriction would lead to lowered basal metabolic rate (BMR) and in turn decrease ROS production. However, calorie restriction actually can lead to an increased BMR by triggering mitochondrial biogenesis – a process whereby the mass of the mitochondria increases along with energy production and ROS. However, despite this, the ability to scavenge ROS also increases.

dinnerSome of the oldest living cultures have low calorie intake diets and it seems that restricting food, in the form of a mild fast, initiates a whole cascade of beneficial effects on the body. On the back of mounting evidence, intermittent fasting and calorie restriction have become popular methods to improve long term health and slow down ageing. There are two main methods the 5:2 method and the 8 hour eating pattern. The 5:2 diet stipulates eating normally for 5 days and then a 2 day calorie restriction of around 500-600 calories. With the 8 hour method, food intake is limited to an eight hour window each day to increase the overnight fasting state. Both of these methods can promote weight loss and tend to have favourable impacts on cell function and repair, gene expression, insulin sensitivity, inflammation markers and can potentially reduce the risk of cancer. The main thing to still focus on with either of these diets is to remember that you are withholding calories and not nutrients. So if you focus on nutrient dense foods, you can do very well on these diets.

Supplements For Longevity

supplementsWhile eating a diet rich in whole foods is the most important health foundation stone, we can enhance the effect of this by supplementing with key nutrients that can really pack a bigger punch on our body function. Many of these nutrients highlighted below will be ingested as part of a whole food diet, but only in small amounts. Supplements can hone in on areas we need specific support with or boost particular functions we are aiming for.

  • Resveratrol –is a type of natural phenol, and is generally classified as a phytoalexin which is a compound produced by a plant in response to injury or stress. Resveratrol acts as an antioxidant and helps to reduce inflammation. Research has found small benefits of this compound on brain function and cardiovascular health.  Not a lot of strong evidence exists so far on other conditions such as cancer and diabetes but research is continuing.
    • Sources: grapes, berries, red wine, Japanese Knotweed (herb) and Pine trees
    • Average amount in red wine is 4.7mg/litre whereas supplements contain far greater amounts.
    • Japanese Knotweed contains a form of resveratrol known as Trans-resveratrol and this chemical form is best absorbed and utilized by the body. While red grapes are high in resveratrol, it must be converted into trans-resveratrol in the body.
  • blueberriesPterostilbene – similar to resveratrol, pterostilbene is actually a dimethylated derivative of resveratrol. This particular molecule gives it the advantage of better availability and stronger antioxidant potential. While it is still in the early stages of research, it appears to be particularly good for cognition and brain function and reducing blood sugar and blood pressure.
    • Sources: Blueberries (yum!), almonds, grape leaves (think dolmades).

 

  • Vitamin C – one of the most important nutrients for literally thousands of processes in the body, good old vitamin C can often be overlooked. It is probably one of the supplements I prescribe the most, because it is so needed and can be hard to get in sufficient quantities.  It is so important, I have previously written a whole post on it – which you can find here.
    • Vitamin C offers specific anti-ageing support by stimulating collagen production for ageing skin and generally lowers free radical damage to mitochondria to boost energy and wellbeing.
    • Best Sources:  most fruits and vegetables – particularly wild berries, kakadu plum, rosehip, acerola cherry, guava, parsley, citrus, capsicum, tomatoes.
  • energyCo-enzyme Q10 – aka ubiquinol. One of my favourite supplements for energy and general health, CoQ10 acts as a potent antioxidant and can support energy production in the cell. It is a naturally occurring fat soluble substance similar to a vitamin and is housed mostly in our mitochondria.  We slowly lose our capacity to make optimal levels as we get older due to our genes and mitochondria malfunctioning and this is one of the reasons why energy levels fall as we age.
    • Be wary that CoQ10 supplements can appear in either the ubidcarenone or ubiquinol form. Ubiquinol is a derivative of CoQ10 that is fully reduced and saturated with extra electrons which enhances absorption and is my preferred form to supplement with. Both CoQ10 and ubiquinol are key components in the electron transport chain, facilitating the production of energy (ATP) in redox reactions.
    • Food Sources: muscle meats - especially the heart, meat, fish, smaller amounts can also be found in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils. Supplements are the most reliable source of CoQ10.
  • eggsVitamin A – vitamin A is well known for its impact on boosting collagen production in the skin and is a popular and effective ingredient in most anti-ageing skincare regimes. Oral supplemental doses of vitamin A are also effective for a range of general parameters for the body and as an anti-oxidant.
    • Best sources: cod liver oil, butter, eggs, liver,  also the precursor beta carotene can be sourced from vegetables, but conversion may be limited in some people.
  • Vitamin B complex: The B vitamins are a synergistic group of vitamins that work together in a multitude of ways in the body to promote and maintain health. Everything from energy production, skin health, liver enzymes, and neurotransmitters to hormone production, blood sugar regulation and immunity involves some of the B vitamins. Being water soluble vitamins, we rapidly use these up and need a regular intake to maintain health and reduce the stresses of lifestyle as we age.
    • Best sources: different vitamins are found in different foods but generally they are found in eggs, meat, liver, nutritional yeast, wheat germ, nuts, seeds and grains.
  • NAD+ - Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NAD) is a co-enzyme found in all cells and is involved with gene expression. NAD can be synthesized from diverse dietary sources, including nicotinic acid and nicotinamide (B3 vitamins) and tryptophan.
    • Another active B vitamin nicotinamide riboside (NR), is a precursor to NAD and supplements of this may boost NAD levels. The benefits of calorie restriction on metabolism discussed above and other cellular functions, such as cognition, involve NAD+ interacting with the class of genes SIRT1/3 which mediate aging and mitochondrial function.
    • Food Source: NR and NAD is also found in trace amounts in milk.

 

  • roosterHyaluronic Acid – found most abundantly in the combs of chickens (!), this compound is also synthesized. A naturally occurring component of connective tissue, skin and nerve tissue that promotes water retention, helping to lubricate the cell and keep it supple.
    • It is great for improving joint health and mobility as well as promoting better moisture retention in the skin.
    • It is mostly used in the beauty industry in topical products to promote healthier skin and reduce wrinkles.
    • Oral doses have also been studied and researchers found definite improvements in dry skin and better joint mobility after taking oral supplements of hyaluronic acid.

 

  • belly fatAlpha Lipoic Acid – Alpha lipoic acid supplements have been shown to reduce mitochondrial loss in humans and boost mitochondrial biogenesis and energy. Being both a fat & water-soluble antioxidant it can help produce cellular energy and also shift glucose into muscles and away from fat cells.
    • Alpha lipoic acid supplementation has been very well researched and found to improve a whole range of parameters important for health. In particular, it has been shown to shift body composition, burn fat, boost cognitive function, reduce dementia risk, improve glucose tolerance, lower cardiovascular risk and improve diabetes management.
    • Sources: found most abundantly in the following foods: heart, liver, kidney, spinach and broccoli

 

  • Key Amino Acids: Amino acids are small proteins that are essential for maintaining health. Some amino acids have very specific roles in the body – such as boosting neurotransmitter levels or promoting detoxification in the liver. The following are particularly well researched for their role in mitochondrial function and ageing:
  • Acetyl-L-Carnitine - Carnitine is biosynthesized from two other amino acids, methionine and lysine and acts as an antioxidant and helps regulate metabolism. Carnitine plays a key role in mitochondrial function, mood and neurotransmitter levels as well as liver enzymes.
  • L-arginine - L-arginine, is an amino acid that is the primary precursor of nitric oxide (NO)—one of several biochemical pathways that supports cardiovascular health and mitochondrial function. In addition to its protective effects on the mitochondria, L-arginine and its counterpart citrulline both stimulate NO production and exert a very powerful role on the vascular system, in particular stimulating vasodilation of the blood vessels and keeping blood pressure healthy. This vasodilatory effect of the amino acid citrulline has also shown to be good for erectile dysfunction by increasing the blood flow to the genitals.

 

A Note About Choosing Supplements

vitaminsWhen choosing supplements it is important to know about quality and synergy. Just as our body has been used to receiving complex combinations of nutrients through the diet for thousands of years, in some cases taking smaller doses of key nutrients mixed together into one supplement can dramatically improve absorption and efficacy than taking large single doses of the same nutrients. Likewise, the quality of the supplement is important to ensure you get the best effects from supplementing. Your practitioner should be able to help guide you into knowing the best supplements regime for your own requirements to help promote your health and vitality as you age.

 

 

 

Fever

Natural Fever Management

fever thermometerI see many children in my practice with recurrent infections and lowered immunity. In these cases, I always check in with the parent about their usual routine for fever management. So many parents are scared of fevers and I spend a large part of the consultation educating about the importance of fevers, their role in immunity and how to manage them more naturally.  It is not uncommon for parents to give multiple doses of paracetamol or ibuprofen containing medicines to lower a fever. While every parent is well meaning and wants to ease discomfort in their child, these drugs are not without side effects. Many children overdose from excess paracetamol ingestion and it is the leading cause of paediatric hospital admissions and calls to poisons information hotlines.  Children aged between 1-3 years old have the highest incidence of accidental poisoning.

Why Do Fevers Occur?

coldFevers are a common occurrence in children and less common in adults possibly due to a child's immune system being more immature and many adults tend to suppress the fever response over the years and have a generally lower vitality. The most important thing to know is that fevers are not a disease but rather a symptom of another disease process. The body uses a fever to stimulate and enhance the immune system to deal with the actual disease process. A fever may occur in response to many different challenges that the body faces, including infections, burns, dehydration, heatstroke, vaccination, drug and alcohol use, excessive exertion and exhaustion. In babies and young children fevers can also accompany teething, overdressing and overexcitement. Most fevers that occur are the result of a viral infection and are considered a natural defence mechanism employed by the immune system.  Research has revealed that the raising of core body temperature destroys many viruses and bacteria which can only survive in a narrow temperature range. Fevers also enhance immunity through increasing white cell counts.

The thermoregulation of the body (temperature control mechanism) is a finely regulated process. While many people get alarmed that the body temperature is elevating and might not stop, it is important to understand that the fever process is finely regulated by the brain. The hypothalamus (brain region) acts like a thermostat and responds to substances in the body and can increase or decrease temperature states.  These substances called pyrogens are produced by the body but are also produced by infectious agents such as viruses and other pathogens. In most cases though the temperature rises to 39-40.5 and stops. In very rare cases, if the core temperature stays elevated for too long at a very high temperature above 41 degrees C, it is possible for the fever to cause damage to tissue and impair cell function.

But what about febrile convulsions – aren’t they dangerous?

brainThe fear of a febrile convulsion is certainly what drives many parents to turn to paracetamol or ibuprofen during a fever. A febrile convulsion or mini seizure normally occurs when the body temperature rises too rapidly and contrary to popular thinking is not due to how high the temperature is per se.  A febrile convulsion generally only lasts one to two minutes but can last up to 10-15 minutes. The actual risk of febrile convulsion is actually very low, only occuring in approximately 3% of children. These convulsions, while being stressful to witness, are actually benign, do not damage the brain or impair intelligence. There is no long term complications or increased risk of epilepsy or other seizures following a febrile convulsions. Research has shown that paracetamol does not decrease the risk of febrile convulsions. It is possible that as the medicines wear off, there can be a more rapid rise in temperature as the body attempts to increase the fever response and that might be a possible trigger for seizures.

Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever?

sick childLike many ‘old wive’s tales’ there is truth in this saying. When we eat while having a fever it diverts energy away from the vital response and can decrease our ability to fight the illness. In addition, it is possible that the body may misinterpret food substances absorbed from the gut as allergens during a fever response as it is on high alert. In most cases of fever, our body ensures we don’t eat too much anyway, as our appetite is often very low and we don’t feel like eating.  However, it is very important to remain well hydrated during a fever as the increased body temperature and sweating can lead to dehydration. Small frequent drinks of water and medicinal herbal teas are best initially in the early stages and then you can use bone or vegetable broth or diluted vegetable juices once on the mend.

It is normal for a fever to increase the heart rate and be accompanied by other symptoms such as a headache. Remember that when using paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve a headache or lower the fever might make your child more comfortable, it will also make their body work harder to fight the infection. So instead of trying to bring a fever down, consider allowing it to do its job. I find in most incidences when a fever is allowed to run its natural course the patient

dispensaryrecovers much quicker. I have also found that in cases of chronic lowered immunity and recurrent infections, allowing a fever to run its course has an immune enhancing effect that boosts the vitality and helps to prevent another infection – effectively breaking the cycle of recurrent infections. There are some remedies that you can use during a fever to alleviate some of the unpleasant side effects but still support your body. I find homeopathic remedies can be effective and some herbal teas are useful.  Supporting your body with vitamins can also be a good way to enhance the immune response without lowering the fever.

Natural Fever Management Tips

When dealing with a fever, you should aim to support yourself or your child by staying warm, keeping well hydrated and getting plenty of rest.  The onset of sweating will often resolve the fever, but do not force your child to be over dressed or covered to stimulate this.  As a general rule, if you or your child is still shivering or has cold hands or feet, do not attempt to lower the temperature as the body is still raising the temperature to the optimal level.  Wait until the body is universally hot or sweating has started, as this heralds the climax of temperature. The body will naturally bring the temperature down when it deems that the time is right.

RED FLAG : redflag
  • While most fevers can be managed safely at home, always seek medical advice when fevers are accompanied by other major or severe symptoms such as persistent cough, vomiting, headache with neck stiffness, respiratory distress or marked mood disturbance or when fevers are very high and continue for more than 24-48 hours.

 

 

Summary of Tips For Managing Fever and Keeping Hydrated
  • Offer plenty of water or rehydrating formulas but avoid using juice or milk as hydrating agents

broth

  • Use homemade bone broth or vegetable broths / soups once on the mend. Recipe is available here.
  • Herbal teas such as rosehip, yarrow, elderflower & peppermint can help with fever and cold symptoms.

homoeopathy

  • Homoeopathics such as Belladonna, Aconite are great for sudden onset fevers.
  • Tepid baths and sponging can make children more comfortable and will help to lower the fever a little if you feel it needs to.
  • Make sure  you or your child child gets plenty of rest and sleep!

 

 

 

 

Stress and weight gain

Stress and Weight Gain

stressed womanIt has been increasingly understood that being stressed is a factor in weight gain and the inability to lose weight. But before we look closer at that, let's first look at stress and its role in the body, and define exactly what stress is.

In biological systems, stress refers to what happens when an organism fails to respond appropriately to threats. While our modern day “threats” are more benign and less life threatening compared to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, the impact can be equally demanding on our bodies. Of course, we know that some stress can be beneficial and can give an incentive to accomplish necessary goals and improve performance. However, in many cases, stress can reach chronic levels and have harmful consequences, such as compromised immune function, poor digestion, weight gain and reproductive issues.

It is important to note that while we will be exploring the role of stress, cortisol and weight in this article, scientists continue to argue that it is not a simple one-to-one relationship between cortisol/stress and weight gain. There are many different mechanisms of action and we are slowly understanding more and more of the complexity of this modern epidemic.

Now let’s look more closely at what we do know about stress, metabolism and weight issues. Stress is one of those things that can cause us to lose weight, gain weight or have difficulty losing weight. For some people being really stressed or suffering from anxiety can cause weight loss. For other people, stress can cause weight gain or a reduced ability to lose weight. Mechanisms for changes in weight involve a host of potential issues. Stress itself causes a change in behaviours for people - from changes to diet, to reduced exercise, late nights and poor sleep habits. Many people initially lose their appetite when suffering from acute stress and yet other people turn to food to cope and comfort eat. We will learn later, that both of these changes in eating patterns are in many cases caused by the complex and varied action of the adrenal hormone, cortisol. If you would like a bit more information about optimal adrenal health, please see my related article here.

The intensity of how the body responds to stress, and the impact that it has, is a large part to do with the stress hormones, particularly cortisol. Cortisol, can play a pivotal role in the maintenance of our body weight. It will have an impact in one direction when it is chronically elevated with ongoing acute stress or in the other direction when it is suppressed as what can happen with adrenal burn out. Getting a healthy balance in cortisol levels is essential in promoting normal adrenal function and promoting healthy weight levels. If the body perceives it is in a state of stress, it can go into a holding pattern and slow metabolism down. A whole cascade of interactions happen that create havoc for our desire to shift stubborn weight, even though it is the body's attempt at keeping us 'healthy'.

hurryWhen we are stressed, the adrenal gland actually produces more cortisol and other hormones such as adrenalin to have a very specific action on our survival. Cortisol’s main function is to restore homeostasis following exposure to stress. The effects of cortisol are felt over virtually the entire body and can impact a range of important mechanisms for health.

Cortisol in particular has a major impact on our blood sugar balance and promotes gluconeogenesis – which is the production of glucose.  During states of fasting, when blood glucose has been depleted, cortisol ensures a steady supply of glucose through its promotion of gluconeogenesis.  Cortisol is also involved in our wake/sleep cycle, has impacts on memory and has anti-inflammatory actions which in the short term can be beneficial, but in the long run can suppress immunity. The long-term, constant cortisol exposure associated with chronic stress impairs cognition, decreases thyroid function, and promotes the accumulation of abdominal fat, which in turn can increase risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

stressed outCortisol has a two-fold effect on our body fat. When the stress first occurs, fat is broken down to supply the body with a rapid source of energy. When we experience something stressful, our brains sends a signal to put the body on alert and send it into "fight or flight" mode. As the body gears up for battle, our appetite is suppressed, and the digestive system shuts off temporarily. Cortisol and adrenaline, help to mobilize carbohydrate and fat for quick energy for the body to use to flee or fight the stressor. Once the immediate stress is gone, the adrenaline dissipates, but cortisol hangs around to help bring the body back into balance.

An increase in appetite following a stressful event can often occur. This is primarily thought to be aimed at replacing the carbohydrate and fat we would have theoretically burned while fleeing or fighting the threat. However with modern day stress, we often have no need to actually expend much energy in physically fighting or running from our stressors, we often just feel stressed internally or emotionally. So this ancient mechanism that is operating to replenish our physical reserves after a stressful event, can lead in our modern times to weight gain. Sustained low grade stress often leads to chronically elevated levels of cortisol which promotes an increase in appetite and glucose production. The elevated glucose of course in turn causes insulin to be elevated and insulin resistance can occur, where the cells become resistant to insulin and fail to respond to the signals. Together insulin resistance and high levels of glucose promote the conversion of glucose into fat as a stored energy mechanism. Often this fat accumulates in the tummy region as this area is more sensitive to cortisol and insulin and is the preferred area for storing fat.

junkNow, enter the thyroid, a gland largely responsible for our metabolic rate and energy production. So how does the thyroid interact with stress, metabolism and weight?  In a previous article I took a look at the thyroid gland in more detail, but here I am just going to focus on its role in metabolism and weight for the purpose of this article. Stress can suppress the thyroid gland which can further aggravate the situation, in particular by slowing down our metabolism. A low thyroid function can also make a person feel tired and flat may increase comfort eating or the consumption of caffeine and alcohol – both of which in turn increase cortisol. Moreover, stress can also lead to sleep deprivation which in turn will aggravate the situation. Some research showed that cortisol levels were elevated by up to 45 percent after a night of sleep deprivation and lack of sleep often leads to poor food choices and increased eating and snacking the next day.

So we have now identified how chronic stress and elevated cortisol may be factors in weight problems, so it stands to reason that we want to reduce our exposure to stressful events and improve our resistance to stress.

Exercise is one of the best things we can do to reduce stress and improve insulin sensitivity. Even a simple daily brisk walk will help as it can promote weight loss by burning calories, but it also reduces insulin resistance and helps to neutralize stress hormones and their effects, which in turn will further help to keep weight off.  Even better, a walk out in nature will offer an extra break from our busy lives and helps us to get a better perspective.

meditationOther stress reduction techniques that are excellent include meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises. Improving time management can also be essential to reducing stress in one’s hectic lifestyle. These activities or similar techniques, as well as getting adequate sleep, can help reduce your body’s physiological response to daily stressors.

Third, how a person perceives stressful situations is also important. One individual may feel major stress from a particular situation, whereas another person will handle it better by using the event as an opportunity to learn. Hence, stress makes life difficult, but our reaction to it is important as well. Learning to better manage stress and work with our inner mindset is a great way for tackling the underlying causes of stress and will help our goals of weight loss.

Next month I am offering my popular Busy But Balanced Stress Management Workshop once again to give you all the tools for managing stress, supporting your adrenals and achieving your goals – whether they be weight loss, inner peace or better digestion! Stress impacts on pretty much everything and effectively managing stress is a fundamental basic tool for optimal health and wellbeing.  Click here to learn more about the workshop and book your spot!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Self Care

Radical Self Care

The power of putting yourself first for health and wellness (without the guilt!)

self careSelf care is something that many people find hard. We are taught to put ourselves last in many cases, constantly attending to the needs of others before ourselves. Women in particular, and mothers even more so, often find it very hard to prioritise their needs and give themselves the care and attention that they need to feel happy and healthy. So many women tell me they feel guilty if they take time for themselves or spend money on themselves. As if everyone else’s needs are more important than their own. The truth is, everyone is equally valuable, worthwhile and deserving. No-one’s needs, wants or desires are more important than our own.

The practice of self care is simply a way of loving and caring for ourselves as though we matter – at least as much as anyone else!  Over-giving, over-achieving and over-striving are all examples of habits that erode our ability to practice self care.  Getting stuck in the doing and busyness of life, we feel overwhelmed and burnt out and our health can suffer on many levels. Getting a balance between the doing and the being, our outer life and inner life, and our need for work, rest and play is an essential foundation of health.

When we get out of balance we often experience physical, mental or emotional symptoms. I like to see these symptoms as calling cards or signals from our body or higher self as part of our early warning system. Something is out of whack in our life and needs to change to allow our body to return to health and vitality.  It could be anything from changing our diet, our sleep habits, our exercise routine, an unhealthy relationship or our job. Attending to any of these things that need to change means that we can shift the focus in our life back to what is right for us.  Indeed, all of these things are in fact a form of self care.

To truly care for ourselves, means we take the time and energy to give ourselves what we need to be happy and healthy on every level. If we gave ourselves the same level of love and care and nurture we give to our loved ones, I believe we would probably all be a lot happier!  When we fill our own cup so to speak, we then have plenty to give to others. More importantly, we can give freely without feeling depleted or tired and we can let go of any subtle feelings of resentment or the feeling of being a martyr or victim in our life.

 

do not disturbMany of us start the day by checking emails and text messages or looking at the latest news headlines or following the facebook feeds of others. In many cases, this habit gives our attention and energy to other people’s “stuff”. We might be inspired or learn something from some of the information we come across, but in many cases we are just distracting ourselves from attending to ourselves and establishing the inner focus we need to create the life we actually want.

There are always other people’s agendas invading our own, but by being more aware and more discerning about what we allow in is an important self care tool. It is all too easy to lose focus or get derailed by other people's opinions, behaviours and habits. We need to learn how to stop doing things we don't want to do and be more conscious of the way we often do things that don't really serve us just to please or receive acceptance from others.  Taking the time to reflect on our underlying habits and beliefs will often bring more awareness and free us from these self imposed limitations that block our success or happiness.

Bookending Our Days

bookendsIt is very powerful to have a self reflection practice that we can engage in – both at the beginning and at the end of our day. I like to call this bookending, as it gives structure and support and serves as a container for all that happens in between our day, much like bookends hold up our books and stop them from falling over.  Our days are often filled with so much busyness and activities and plenty of doing, doing, doing. Many of us certainly do enough that we could fill the pages of a book in any given day!

 

Giving ourselves space to pause and reflect on what we wish to have happen each day at the outset and then reflect on what actually happened at the close of the day, is a lovely way of bringing more conscious awareness into our life. We start to be a more active participant in our life, rather than feeling like life is something that is happening to us, that we have little control over. Any of the self care practices detailed in the download below can be used as bookends for our day.

 

time outThe self care download sheet I have put together (see below) outlines a range of activities we can engage in to practice self care. I recommend that you choose one or two self care practices at a time, selecting ones that appeal to you and explore what they offer. Give the particular methods a try and stick to them for at least two weeks and monitor to see how it is working for you. It is good to reflect on how they have helped you feel more connected and nourished, so please consider the questions at the end of the sheet to help build more awareness and momentum.

 

So in conclusion, remember that we are always told on aircraft to attach the oxygen mask to ourselves before assisting others. So this is a perfect analogy to remember when considering the importance of self care, as we are no good to anyone if we fall in a heap from exhaustion, sickness or burn out!

 

Get My Guide to Self Care Strategies - click below to download

Self Care Strategies

 

 

Functional Testing

Functional Testing Explained

There are many different medical tests to assess how the body is functioning. Conventional medicinetesting blood utilises standard blood tests, urine tests, stool tests, scans, x-rays, MRIs and the like. However, while these tests are very useful, they often are more geared towards picking up pathology rather than dysfunction.

For determining how well a system is functioning, many tests fail to really give a true assessment of organ function unless there is a gross pathology. Functional testing is a whole different branch of medical testing that looks to assess function of different organs. Many of these tests give us a more in-depth look at what is going on behind the scenes. These tests can also pick up abnormalities before they are at the level of pathology, allowing preventative treatment plans to be developed.

Unfortunately in most cases these functional tests are not covered under medicare, so the patient has to pay for them privately.  These can vary from as low as $50 for some tests and can be as high as $500-600. Many tests are around the $100-200 mark. Obviously, functional tests are only recommended when the results gathered from the test will give very specific information that can be used to tailor an individualised treatment plan for the patient. Many of the tests are offered as simple home test kits for collecting urine, saliva, stool and blood spots however some do need blood draws from a pathology centre.

Let's take a look at some of the different functional tests available within a few body systems.

Digestion and Liver Function

Standard testing for digestive issues can include colonoscopy and gastroscopy - where scopes (camera like devices) are used to take a look at the inside of the colon or gut. These can pick up pathology such as polyps, colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease and gastritis (inflammation and ulceration of the stomach or oesophagus). In some cases doctors will run a PCR test to look for bacteria and parasites in the stool such as blastocystis and giardia. While these tests are useful, there is a whole host of other things that can be tested that give us a really good insight into the digestive system. For example, knowing what levels of good bacteria are present is very important and assessing enzyme levels and short chain fatty acid levels can highlight underlying gut issues and dictate the best treatment strategy. A complete digestive stool test yields lots of information that can give a detailed look at gut function.

SIBO-testingBreath testing for Helicobacter pylori is a standard test now for stomach ulcers and gastritis. The lactulose SIBO breath test is also a very specific functional test to more accurately assess and diagnose the underlying cause of irritable bowel symptoms such as bloating, wind and erratic stools. Food intolerance testing can show what foods might be contributing to health issues - including digestive issues, allergies, sinusitis, eczema and asthma.  Leaky gut can be diagnosed based on the intestinal permeability test. A functional liver detoxification profile takes a look at how efficient the liver is at detoxing certain chemicals - which is far more useful than a standard liver function test which only measures liver enzyme levels - which tend to be elevated with inflammation of the liver and do not determine the cause. We often want to get a sense of how well the liver is functioning in a day to day sense, and the liver detox profile is the best test for that.

Hormones and Reproduction

Standard blood tests are useful for looking at hormone levels, but they tend to give a fairly broad understanding. For example, there are at least 4 different types of oestrogen that can be tested, some of which are more proliferative and linked to breast and endometrial cancers while others are more protective and less damaging. Standard blood tests just give the total oestrogen level and do not differentiate between the different types. Understanding the amounts of different hormones present will also potentially highlight issues with poor excretion of hormones and poor liver function and give specific treatment strategies to reduce risk of disease and treat specific issues such as heavy periods. Functional tests look at salivary levels as well as dried urine to give a more sensitive and detailed assessment of hormone status.

Genetic testing for underlying issues with folate metabolism (MTHFR) is also an important aspect of a fertility workup that Karen undertakes. Polymorphisms (defects) in the MTHFR genes can impair methylation and this has been linked to infertility and miscarriage along with certain cancers and mental health issues.  As the methylation pathway is a nutrient dependent pathway, it is one that specific nutritional supplements can improve.

Adrenals and Thyroid

saliva testThe adrenal glands modulate and support the function of every tissue, organ and gland in your body to maintain balance during stress or illness to help you heal or keep you alive. Many of the hormones produced by the adrenals are essential for good health and vitality, so if your adrenals aren’t functioning well, there can be widespread impacts. Likewise the thyroid is a highly important organ responsible for metabolism and energy in the body. Assessing full thyroid function (not just TSH levels) is important to get an accurate look at the thyroid function. Likewise, a 24 cortisol test can be a good way of assessing adrenal function, whereby salivary cortisol levels are taken 4 times during a 24 hour period to assess how the adrenal functions throughout the day. Other comprehensive dried urine hormone tests can give a lot of information about the adrenal hormones and subsequent adrenal function. For more information on adrenal health click here.

A Summary Of Functional Tests Currently Available:

  • Comprehensive Stool Analysis - this test is an excellent way of  for beneficial & dysbiotic bacteria, clostridium, candida & yeast, secretory IgA, Lactoferrin, White blood cells, Mucus, Pancreatic Elastase, pH & details of possible food digestion impairment of fats, pH testing etc)
  • Parasite testing (Blastocystis hominis, Dientamoeba fragilis, Giardia lamblia, Cryptosporidium)
  • SIBO (Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)
  • Helicobacter pylori
  • MTHFR gene mutation tests
  • Methylation testing (Methionine, Cysteine, homocysteine, SAMe, SAH etc.)
  • Pyroluria / pyrroles test (a genetic condition linked to anxiety, depression, addictions and behavioural issues)
  • Saliva Hormone Testing (Cortisol, DHEA, oestrogens -E1, E2, E3, progesterone, androgens, testosterone, melatonin)
  • Thyroid Hormones (TSH, fT4, fT4, Reverse T3, Thyroid antibodies)
  • Nutritional Blood Profiles (Vitamin A, B1, B2, B6, B12/Folate, Vit C, Vit D, Vit E, Co-Enzyme Q10, iron studies, magnesium, calcium, iodine, selenium, copper, manganese, zinc, glutathione, omega 3 levels, etc.)
  • Urine Amino Acids profile
  • Histamine testing
  • Hair Mineral Analysis & Heavy Metal Toxicity Testing (mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, aluminium etc.)
  • Environmental Pollutants & Chemical Toxicity
  • Liver Detoxification Profile (Assesses Phase 1 & 2 status with chemical exposure)
  • Metabolic ‘Organic acids’ Testing (36 metabolic acids that may determine causes for fatigue, depression)
  • Urinary Hormone Steroid Profile (Includes testosterone, oestrogens, progesterone, Melatonin, Cortisol, DHEA adrenal hormones)
  • Food Sensitivity & Allergy Profiles:
    • (IgA, IgE & IgG antibodies) 
    • ALCAT food sensitivity test
    • Both food sensitivity methods can test with accuracy the immune response of the body to up to 200 foods, herbs and spices.
  • Celiac Antibody Profile and Celiac Gene Test (HLA DQ2 & HLA DQ8)
  • DNA Gene Profile Testing (Smart DNA, 23 & Me)
  • Intestinal Permeability testing
  • Zonulin testing  - for diagnosing leaky gut syndrome

 

If you would like to discuss the merits of a functional test for your specific health issues or as a simple preventative strategy to optimise your health and vitality, please contact Karen.

 

 

herb trial

Are you or a friend experiencing anxiety or depression?

You are Invited to Participate in a Herbal Medicine Clinical Trial

Karen is a lead practitioner in an ongoing research project that is evaluating the effectiveness of herbal medicine on the management of depression and anxiety. 
chamomileThe research is being jointly conducted by Endeavour College of Natural Health and the University of Technology Sydney and sponsored by Mediherb.
Herbal medicine offers a very effective tool for the management of mild to moderate depression and anxiety. Karen uses over 20 medicinal plants that have both research and clinical effectiveness for the treatment of mental health issues. Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety are increasingly common in our modern busy lives and can have a major impact on our quality of life, happiness and wellbeing. Utilising natural and effective herbal medicines can make a big difference and do not come with the standard side effects of mainstream drugs.

Your Medicine Costs Will Be Covered

The research data in this trial will be gathered over 3 consultations and any herbal medicines prescribed will be free of charge to the study participants for the three sessions. The study allows for flexibility of prescribing as the researchers are seeking to test the therapies as they are practised in the ‘real world’ by naturopaths.  Any of the medicines that Karen prescribes during your consultation to support your treatment aims will be dispensed and mailed out to you free of charge after your consultations.

Who is eligible for treatment and participation?

Holy Basil - a great herb for supporting the adrenals and nerves.

Holy Basil - a great herb for supporting the adrenals and nerves.

Only new patients or exisiting patients who I haven't recently treated for anxiety or depression will qualify. You must be experiencing depression or anxiety that has either been previously diagnosed medically or if you have a sense that you are experiencing mild to moderate depression or anxiety that is affecting your quality of life in some way, you are eligible to participate.

What if I am on medication already?

You can already be on pharmaceutical medication for depression or anxiety and still participate. There are some herbs we need to be careful not to prescribe in combination with various medications, but there are many more which can be used and could possibly improve medication outcomes.  Karen is highly experienced at managing these conditions with herbal medicines and also complimenting treatment with standard therapies when necessary.

What is the benefit for me?

While the regular consultation fee is charged for your three consultations, if you participate in the trial, you will receive your herbal medicine prescription free of charge as consideration for completing the necessary forms for the three consultations which are part of the study. Your treatment will still be personalised and prescribed on your individual needs and not be standardised to be the same for everyone. This is important research as it reflects how we use herbs in our naturopathic practice in an everyday application.
All going well, you are also highly likely to experience a positive change in your mental health! 

If I say "Yes", what will it involve?

lemonbalmIf you wish to be involved, you will need to commit to three consultation sessions which will be between 1-4 weeks apart, depending on the patient. The research component will only take a small amount of your time in addition to your consultation. You will have to complete five forms initially (one demographic form and four assessment questionnaires) at the initial consultation. After that there are four forms (the assessment questionnaires only) to be completed at the two subsequent follow-up consultations. These forms will take about 15 minutes to complete and will help to gather data to illustrate how the treatment is going. Due to the personal nature of this topic, some questions might make some people feel slightly embarrassed or uncomfortable, but are important for the treatment to be properly evaluated.
Karen will also provide detailed information about the herbal medicine treatment provided at each consultation and general advice on stress management and lifestyle.

What is the next step if I want to be involved?

You can learn more information about the study by visiting this website: http://herbsonthehill.com.au/anxiety-and-depression-study
If you would like to be involved, you can simply book online an appointment with Karen via clicking online bookings at either Buderim or Noosa clinics. 
Or you can call the Noosa clinic on 5449 7088 for Noosa bookings.
Just book a regular appointment if you are an exisiting patient or an initial appointment if you are a new patient. Please make sure you mention in the booking notes or to the receptionist that you wish to be involved in the trial, so the necessary paperwork can be prepared for you.  You will need to arrive a little earlier to fill the forms in, or they can be emailed out to you.
Here are some background forms for you to peruse about the trial before making your decision.

Looking forward to helping your heal with herbal plant power!

 MediHerb Logo Endeavour logo UTS logo 2

anxiety in kids

Anxiety In Kids

I have been managing some anxiety in my 11 year old son recently, and thought it would be good to explore this important topic of kids and anxiety and how to best support them.

I treat many children in my clinic with anxiety and nervousness and I believe it is very important to deal with anxiety in children, otherwise you often end up with an anxious teenager and then if it remains unaddressed, the anxious adult tends to follow on. Anxiety is a growing issue that plagues many adults and has a big impact on a person's quality of life, choices and behaviours. Thus preventing and managing anxiety in childhood will help a child in their life now but will also give them a brighter and happier future.

roadIt is important to know that at various developmental crossroads throughout childhood, anxiety can be a common feature. But the difference in how children are managed at these juncture points can be vast. It is essential to offer appropriate support for children through the developmental stages they face through childhood. When we meet them in healthy and meaningful ways we ensure that they successfully navigate the journey from childhood to adulthood.

Of course, the first thing that needs to be highlighted is that many anxious kids are the product of anxious adults. If you or your partner has anxiety, you need to be conscious of how much you are contributing to your child’s anxiety. There are links from both a genetic perspective as well as a learned behaviour aspect. Children takes cues about the world directly from their parents, so many of kid&mumthe learned beliefs and programming comes from their parents. If you are wracked with worries and fears and tend to stress about certain things in life then you can be pretty sure your child will worry about the same stuff. The trick is to get support for yourself to better handle your anxiety and also avoid sharing your “stuff” with the kids. Be mindful to keep your own issues to yourself and try to remain calm and centred around your kids. Many adult concepts that children overhear parents talking about or watch on the news are the source of anxiety in kids. They are often too young to fully comprehend many issues and just like when we eat too much or the wrong type food we can’t digest it and we get indigestion, kids can’t digest these experiences and feelings and they tend to come out in other ways physical or emotional. Physical symptoms that manifest from underlying anxiety can include stomach pain, nausea, rashes and headaches as well as behavioural issues.

I have had instances of children in my clinic developing anxiety and fears about things after watching movies, reading books or hearing news stories. An important development crossroad occurs for children between 9-10 years, where they are aware of mortality for the first time and take the first tentative steps into adulthood and start the process of leaving childhood behind.  This can result in a range of feelings and behaviours that can appear contradictory, confusing or exasperating! One minute they are wanting to be independent and all grown up, controlling every choice they can, and the next minute they can behave like a small child being dependent, unreasonable, insecure and needy. This time can be fraught with anxiety and nervousness and children can get worried about death and dying - in either themselves or their parents or loved ones. There is a real perceptible shift in children that occurs here and I find many children present with digestive upsets, insomnia and headaches around this time, which are more psychosomatic in origin.  Being aware of the underlying transitional theme common to this age can normalise it and really help both parents and children manage it better.

While we need to protect our children from adult concepts and our own personal stuff, we also don’t want to fall into the other trap where we protect them from all experiences that are tough. It is very important to not rescue your child from experiencing negative emotions, as much as we might want

Helicopter parentsto as parents! It is hard to see our loved ones suffer, but experiencing all the highs and lows of life, both the good and the bad, builds emotional intelligence and resilience. The modern phenomenon of the hovering “helicopter parent” and “cotton wooling” our kids to protect them is creating children and young adults who are ill equipped to deal with the reality of life. We only learn through experience and we get stronger and wiser when we face trials in life, no matter how big or small.  Even though I am suggesting that we shouldn’t rescue our kids from feeling negative emotions such as sadness, pain or rejection it doesn’t mean we are abandoning them and making them suffer in isolation. We still need to give kids tonnes of love and support and the practical resources and skills to manage difficult situations and cope with the feelings that arise and flow through them. Speaking of flowing, the old adage that emotions or e-motions are just energy in motion is a good one to remember. We only get tripped up by emotions when we don’t allow them to flow and move through us. When we hold onto them and they get stuck, we tend to create more problems for ourselves. Not only do we prolong the suffering but often the negative emotions can end up in the physical body as pain or dysfunction.

It is good to let your child know that no emotion is good or bad, it just is. But what we do with our emotions is the key to a healthy response. I like to use the analogy of the emotional backpack – all the things that happen to us that we don’t process well and hold on to we put in the invisible backpack we carry around.  Over time, this bag gets heavier and heavier and we all know what an adult with a lot of “baggage” looks like!  Try to be empathic, understanding and patient with your child when they are expressing fears and worries. You need to validate their concerns on the one hand while gently reassuring them on the other. Often when supported like this, they find their way to a feeling of peace and calm or they are able to find their own solution to their problems.  This feeling and experience of autonomy and being able to work through emotions is very valuable in building self-esteem and confidence.

sandplayOther creative outlets that involve art, story or play can also be useful for kids to find a non-verbal solution to their problems. Art therapy and sand play therapy are great tools for kids to explore their inner life and emotions without needing to talk. Often the feelings that arise in kids are big and the adults around them expect the child to be able to discuss their feelings. But for many children, they can find it difficult to put their finger on what is wrong and feel ill equipped to understand or be able to verbally discuss things. Through sand play, they can choose from many different symbols by way of figurines to represent the emotions and situations they are struggling with. Adding them to the sand tray and interacting with them tells a valuable story and brings things from the inside out into the light and allows them to be processed more effectively. Kids can easily learn simple breathing and mindfulness strategies that they can use to help manage anxiety and calm down. There are a range of different apps and audios that you can easily download that give specific exercises and creative visualisations for kids with anxiety.

While it is advisable to work mostly with practical and creative tools for kids with anxiety, there may be a place for dietary change and nutritional or herbal supplements. Ensuring a healthy, whole food diet is important to stabilise blood sugar which can aggravate anxiety. Likewise, correcting deficiencies in key nutrients such as magnesium, calcium, B vitamins and zinc is also essential to improve anxiety.  In some cases, we also want to assess children for underlying issues that are causing or aggravating anxiety such as conditions like pyrrole disorders or methylation issues. Herbal medicines and flower essences can also be prescribed in individual cases to help calm children with more moderate or severe anxiety.

Anxiety in children is a problem that is increasing in tandem with the growing rates of anxiety in the adult population. Our lives have become too busy and overloaded and kids are often over scheduled and easily stressed. It is important to create a dynamic at home that offers a haven of peace and calm for our children (and us!) and encourage plenty of time in nature and to explore activities that allow kids to slow down and relax and take time to smell the roses!

If your child is suffering from anxiety, fears or phobias, please bring them in for an assessment so we can give you and them some much needed support. I also have a range of good therapists I refer to for art or sand play therapy when appropriate.

 

SIBO

SIBO

Gut issues are very common in our modern population and according to the Gut Foundation, at least 50% of our population complains of a digestive complaint in any twelve month period. In many respects the health of our gut dictates or reflects the health of our overall body, so sorting out gut issues is very important – to help with everything from mental health to immunity and energy levels.

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is a relatively new digestive disorder on the radar and appears to have increasing prevalence. SIBO is a condition with strong links to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Based on some studies, it is estimated that at least 80% of people with irritable bowel syndrome in fact have SIBO.

So before we dive into look at testing, diagnosing and treating SIBO, lets take a look at the backdrop to the digestive landscape and get the lay of the land.

abdoThe digestive tract mostly comprises of the mouth/oesophagus, the stomach, the small intestine and large intestine or colon and (indirectly the liver, gallbladder and pancreas). Its primary role is to process and breakdown food so that we can use the nutrients for growth, development, repairs and maintenance of our body.

Most of us are aware by now that we need healthy flora (also called the microbiome) in our digestive tract for maintaining health. But the types and location of bacteria in the digestive tract can make the difference between health and disease. For example the bacteria, Helicobacter pylori, in the stomach can contribute to ulcers, while lactobacilli bacteria promote health in the bowel. The small intestine, unlike the large intestine, has only small amounts of bacteria present. The large intestine has approximately one million times more bacteria than the small intestine, and the types and functions of the bacteria in the small intestine differ in some ways to the large.

The small intestine and the bacteria present play an important role in digesting food and absorbing nutrients, protect us from absorbing damaging bacteria or yeasts from our food and thus plays an important part in maintaining a healthy immune system.

tummySo SIBO refers to a condition where the amount of bacteria in the small intestine increases or changes in type and composition. This gives rise to a whole set of symptoms. The bacteria ferment carbohydrates and produce gases such as hydrogen and methane which in turn contribute to symptoms such as bloating after meals, burping and wind, constipation or diarrhea, cramping and nausea. Less obvious symptoms can be experienced outside the digestive tract and show up throughout the body, as nutrient levels are affected, the gut is inflamed and immunity is impaired. Particular conditions which have a strong link to SIBO include food intolerance, allergies, acne rosacea, arthritis, restless legs, liver disease, diabetes, depression and even Parkinson’s Disease has been found to be linked to SIBO.

A range of possible causes have been linked to the development of SIBO. These include prior antibiotic use, previous episodes of food poisoning, viral or bacterial gut bugs, acute or prolonged stress, the oral contraceptive pill, antacid medications, nutrient deficiencies and underlying diseases such as coeliac disease or other autoimmune diseases.

To test for SIBO, a simple home test kit measuring breath gases is an accurate way of identifying bacteria in the small intestine. The sugar lactulose is used after a period of fasting and the gases are collected every 20 mins and can determine if there was a rise. It takes around 2 hours for lactulose to enter the large intestine, so any gases produced from fermenting are the product of the small intestine. If there is a high baseline or a rise in gases during the test period, then a diagnosis of SIBO is likely. The test is not covered under medicare and costs around $200. (I use sibotest.com for the SIBO lactulose breath test.)

Treatment involves a combination of dietary change and antimicrobial treatments to both starve and kill the bacteria present.

Fibre foodsThe FODMAPs diet is often recommended for irritable bowel syndrome and it is thought that the fermentable sugars and carbohydrates contained in these foods are the problem. Avoiding these foods will certainly eliminate or reduce digestive discomfort in many people with IBS. However, when they eat those foods again, the bloating, constipation or diarrhoea often returns. It appears that there is still an underlying cause not being addressed and in my opinion in most cases it is SIBO. The diet alone doesn’t always deal with the bacterial imbalance, although avoiding the foods that the bacteria feed on is a very important part of treatment. The diet to follow during active the SIBO treatment phase is one that is very low in carbohydrates, starches, sugars and dairy to eliminate food supply for the bacteria.

Antimicrobials to kill the abnormal bacteria are also necessary. These can be conventional antibiotics or herbal therapies. These options have been shown to be equally successful for treatment of SIBO.  Herbal antibiotic therapies normally combine a range of different herbs such as wormwood, berberine containing herbs, garlic and certain essential oils. They are rotated over a 2 week period in many cases to reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance. Holistic strategies always include a follow-up phase after active antibiotic treatments. This involves specific probiotics to restore the gut flora, gut repair strategies to help heal the lining of the digestive tract and motility agents.

If you suffer from digestive disturbances such as irritable bowel or inflammatory bowel disease and suspect you have SIBO, then please make an appointment to assess your options. Restoring the health of your gut will improve your health in many diverse ways!

 

 

 

 

healthy heart

A Healthy Heart

With Valentines approaching, we are inundated with messages of romance and heart symbols. So what is the significance of the human heart with emotions and love in particular? On the other hand, from a physical perspective, heart disease is one of the leading causes of chronic illness in the modern world. So what can we do to make our heart healthy and prevent disease and also foster heart intelligence and emotional wellbeing?

I have recently read the most inspiring book about the human heart, called “Human Heart, Cosmic Heart” by American doctor Thomas Cowan. I have always been fascinated with the heart and its role in our health and emotional wellbeing. So much of our common vernacular speaks about the heart as being very connected to our emotions, soul and spirit. Far from being a mere pump that pumps blood around the body, the heart has been regarded for many thousands of years as an organ that has a deeper connection to the subtle aspects of our being and one that is deeply connected to our capacity to express and feel love. The Indian concept of the heart chakra or energy centre is just one example of many traditions that rank highly the quality and importance of our energetic heart space.

When we think about health aspects of the physical heart, the main issues that arise are high blood pressure (hypertension), heart attacks, angina and problems with the rhythmicity of the heart – such as arrhythmias (extra or erratic beats) or rapid beats (tachycardia). A healthy heart beats in a regular and highly coordinated way due to electrical impulses generated in the heart muscle cells that in turn trigger a sequence of organized heart muscle contractions. Most problems to do with irregular beats are caused by abnormalities in the generation or conduction of these electrical impulses.

The nervous system is intricately linked to the heart and it is virtually impossible to discuss the heart without bringing in the nervous system as they work so closely together. When we experience stress, the heart will beat faster and blood pressure will increase to support the increased physical demands on the body. The Heartmath institute in America house a specialized team of scientists dedicated to examining the complex role of the heart and its connection to the brain and nervous system. Through research over the past couple of decades, we now know that the heart responds before the brain has even had time to process a stimulus.  The heart has also been shown to have an intuitive and predictive capacity. It has an electromagnetic field that can essentially read or pick up invisible data such as emotions. It is largely responsible for our ability to sense emotions in others and drives many of our unconscious feelings and instinctive behaviours.

cellsI also recently came across some very interesting research that shows that the heart is able to effectively package up blood and deliver it to specific organs around the body. Each part of the heart tissue correlates to a specific area of the body. By creating different sized or shaped vortices in the red blood cells, the heart is able to send them to specific areas of the body where they are most needed. For example, blood going to the brain has the freshest and newest blood cells. We used to think that blood flowing through our veins was all the same, but we now know that it is in fact different and specialized for different parts of the body. What an amazing capacity our strongest and hardest working muscle, the heart, has!

So what does out heart need in order to stay healthy? Pretty simple in many ways – eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise and manage your stress and lifestyle! Oh and don’t forget, although most people should know already, that avoiding smoking is one of the single most important things to do for a healthy heart.

fatThe role of diet in heart disease has been well known for many years. Originally fat was considered the culprit in heart disease, but research has now proven that sugar and refined carbohydrates are the real culprits. Fat and cholesterol have been unfairly demonized for too long. Cholesterol is in fact an important nutrient - being part of every cell in the body and an important precursor for a range of hormones and vitamin D.  Approximately 80% of cholesterol in your body is actually made by your liver (that is how important it is!) with dietary intakes only accounting for around 20% of your supply. The cholesterol issue is more complex than just looking at your levels or examining the good (HDL) versus bad (LDL) levels. In fact oxidised (rancid) cholesterol is the real problem as it promotes inflammation and free radical damage. There are tests we can now do that measure the amount of oxidized cholesterol you have – which is a better marker for heart disease risk.

But sugar is perhaps the more sinister demon that sneaks into our diet in obvious and less obvious ways. Sugar increases inflammation and can damage the blood vessels promoting hardening of the arteries. Hardening of the arteries can reduce flexibility of the blood vessels and increase blood pressure. Controlling blood pressure is one of the most important things you can do to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system and prevent heart attacks. To learn more specifically about blood pressure you can read my article here.

So we have busted the myth on fat, but what other nutritional guidelines should we follow? There is no one best diet for the heart – there are many cultures around the world with low heart disease rates but widely different diets. The Mediterranean diet for instance, has been well studied for decreasing many chronic diseases including heart disease. This diet is rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes, fish, eggs, smaller amounts of meat and poultry and plenty of healthy fats in the way of olive oil and nuts. But realistically any diet that has a strong focus on nutrient dense whole foods, one that is high in vegetable intake and very low in processed foods such as sugars, white flour products, artificial additives and hydrogenated oils, is going to be good for the heart.

manExercise is another important key to heart and vascular health. Helping to keep us fit, energetic and to maintain normal body weight, exercise also keeps our blood pressure stable and improves circulation. Choose something that combines strength training with aerobic fitness. But more importantly, choose something you love! If running isn’t your thing, then try simple walking. Brisk walking was shown to be just as beneficial as running in a long term study on heart disease risk.

Lastly stress management could in fact be the most important part of having a healthy heart and avoiding heart attacks! Did you know, that more heart attacks occur on a Monday morning than any other time? This "Monday cardiac phenomenon" is believed to be related to work stress. Stress hormones are not meant to be persistently elevated in the body and have been found to cause widespread damage and can even change the way the blood clots. To read more about stress and its role on the heart, check out my other article on stress, the nervous system and the heart.

So all in all, our wonderful hearts need to be loved and appreciated for all they do. Beating over and over without any conscious input from us, they keep our whole body healthy and nourished with life giving blood, they manage our higher capacities for intuitive wisdom and they house our spiritual centre. Maybe give your heart a valentine’s day gift from yourself this year, in love and gratitude for all its tireless efforts!

giving

sun gazing

Sun Gazing

sun
Have you been told to never look at the sun?
Or that staring at the sun is bad for your eyes?

We have so many fears and phobias around the sun in modern times, that many people have come to believe that it is harmful to be exposed to the sun at all.  We slather our skin in sunscreen, cover up with clothes, wear sunglasses, stay indoors and generally avoid the sun.

Though many of us still crave the warmth and light that the sun brings, and going to the beach in summer will show you the many people who still like to sun bake, despite the dire warnings. The medical condition, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also affects many people in northern or southern climates during the winter months when daylight hours are reduced and exposure to sunlight is very low. The lack of light has been found to reduce production of the neurotransmitter serotonin (our happy hormone) and this can create mood disorders and depression.

Well, in reality most of us are not getting sufficient exposure to the sun, not just those in extreme climates. This is most easily demonstrated by the widespread issue of vitamin D deficiency, which is evident even in warm sunny Queensland!  We require adequate exposure to sunlight to maintain our vitamin D levels, without which we experience bone loss, immune disturbances and hormonal imbalances to mention just a few issues arising from vitamin D deficiency. You can learn more about vitamin D and how much sun you need here.

Getting sunshine for vitamin D is essential for treating autoimmune disease.

But vitamin D aside, are we missing something else necessary for health by avoiding the sun? Well, yes! Exposure to the sun’s light is essential for regulating a range of important biochemical pathways. For instance, skin diseases such as psoriasis, vitiligo and eczema can be treated successfully with solar radiation (heliotherapy) or artificial UV radiation (phototherapy). UV exposure has been shown to suppress the clinical symptoms of multiple sclerosis independently of vitamin D status.

Interesting research has found that exposure to UV light generates nitric oxide. Nitric oxide has an important role in cardiovascular health, reducing blood pressure and it may also have antimicrobial effects and it can act as a mood regulating neurotransmitter. Exposure to UV light may also improve mood through the release of the feel good chemicals endorphins.[1]

Our pineal gland and melatonin output is dependent on our exposure to light and dark cycles and our adrenal gland function and cortisol output is optimised through exposure to light, promoting energy in the body. There are other solar energy theories that presuppose humans can generate energy from the sun much as solar batteries create energy from the sun and plants generate energy through photosynthesis. This was proven in NASA research on Hira Ratan Matek,  highlighted later in this article.

sunworshipHeliotherapy or sun therapy has been around in different guises and cultures for millennia. The ancient Egyptians, Aztecs, Greeks, Romans and Indians all shared a strong cultural practice of sun therapies and/or sun worship. I have heard about the practice of sun gazing for a while, but new research made me take a fresh look at it. At the International Congress of Naturopathic Medicine where I presented in Barcelona in July, I met an interesting researcher from India who was presenting new research on sun gazing. The researchers at the Pavitra Nature and Yoga Hospital showed sun gazing for 15 minutes for 2 weeks resulted in improvements in refractory error (short or long sightedness) with changes in visual acuity and discontinuation of spectacles in 25 out of 34 subjects in the case group.[2]

The reason behind these benefits may seem strange at first, but when we remember the fact that the sun provides the basis for all life on earth, it makes more sense. The sun governs our life cycles, the seasonal cycles and the day night cycle. We have evolved in close connection to nature, the earth and the seasonal cycles and the sun is a major part of this. Our biochemistry has developed strong links and benefits from sun exposure as well as important defence mechanisms to protect us from the potential damage of too much sun. There are many mechanisms that are as yet unknown in the complex interaction between the sun and human health and wellbeing.

starvingSun gazing has become something of a growing trend in many places across the world. A popular technique was developed by an Indian man, Hira Ratan Manek, (left) who claims he can survive on solar energy alone and doesn’t need to eat. Research funded by NASA looked into the phenomenon of sun gazing and studied the man. The team of medical doctors at the University of Pennsylvania observed Hira 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 100 days. NASA confirmed that he was indeed able to survive largely on light with occasionally a small amount of buttermilk or water during this time. The sun's energy moves through the eyes and charges the hypothalamus tract and neurons and Hira's were reported to be active and not dying. Furthermore, the pineal gland was expanding and not shrinking a phenomenon unknown for someone Hira’s age.

Many advocates of sun gazing claim that the sun has the ability to generate energy in the body and also project some kind of benefical power towards manifesting higher goals and wishes.

Hira has given instructions on his technique of sun gazing and it involves other practices such as a plant food diet and earthing. To partake in the sun gazing activities, advocates recommend starting with small amounts of exposure of the eyes to the sun for just 10 seconds. Each day you increase the time by a further 10 seconds, until after a few months, you are looking at the sun for 15 minutes and slowly continuing to increase until you reach 30 mins. It is important to only look at the sun in the first hour after it rises in the morning or an hour before it sets in the evening. This will prevent any damage occurring to the eye from too much harsh light. Before embarking on any experimenting with sun gazing you should research for yourself the techniques and assess the risks and benefits for your own case.

solar-flare-closeupLastly, another interesting phenomenon of the sun’s impact on our health and wellbeing involves solar flares. Modern science has shown that solar flares have a powerful impact on life on earth for many species.  A solar flare is a sudden flash of brightness observed near the sun’s surface that involves a huge amount of energy and emissions that affect all layers of the solar atmosphere and can affect weather patterns, cause power outages and impact on technology such as radio transmission on earth. It is has also been shown that solar flares can impact on human health, particularly affecting heart rhythms, blood flow and blood pressure, sleep patterns, behaviour and mood.

So hopefully when you look at the sun next time you are out and about you may take time to consider the power and health potential of this great cosmic being!

 

[1] Juzeniene A, Moan J, Beneficial effects of UV radiation other than via vitamin D production Dermatoendocrinol. 2012 Apr 1; 4(2): 109–117.

[2] Subramanian, S. “Effect of Sun-gazing on refractive errors: a wait-list controlled trial” Pavitra Nature & Yoga Hospital, India  (presented at the 3rd Intl Congress of Naturopathic Medicine”)

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