Author Archive

Turmeric

Turmeric Health Benefits

Turmeric, also know as Curcuma longa,  is a spicy perennial plant of the ginger family, (Zingiberaceae) with potent health benefits.

turmeric plantNative to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, Turmeric has been used for thousands of years for both medicinal, dyeing and culinary purposes in a range of cultures. Turmeric was often used as a cheap substitute for saffron to give fabrics or foods a bright yellow colour.

In recent years Turmeric has been under the spotlight and undergone much research. In particular the active ingredient Curcumin is the most potent agent of research. Curcumin is a polyphenol, a particularly beneficial molecule found in many fruits and vegetables. 

Curcumin, which gives the yellow color to turmeric, was first isolated in 1910. Traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine has long used Turmeric for a wide variety of diseases and conditions, including those of the skin, lung and digestion systems and for general aches, pains, wounds, sprains, and liver disorders. Extensive research within the last half century has proven that most of these activities, once associated with turmeric, are due to curcumin.

turmeric & gingerResearch has found that curcumin beneficially modulates many diseases including diabetes, fatty-liver disease, atherosclerosis, arthritis, cancer and neurological disorders such as depression, Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease. It's primary role is as a potent anti-inflammatory and many of the modern chronic diseases have an inflammatory component driving them. You can use curcumin for pain such as headaches, period pain and back or joint pain.

Curcumin also displays potent antimicrobial actions against different bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites and can play a role in antibiotic resistance. A synergy between curcumin and antibiotics has yielded favourable results in some studies, but caution is warranted against using it routinely with all antibiotics as curcumin has also been shown to decrease the efficacy of some classes antibiotics by mechanisms which protected the bacteria from the action of the drug. 1

Curcumin can be a bit difficult to absorb and the best results come from a supplement that is altered to ensure it is well absorbed. Specifically it needs the present of fat to aid absorption. While the absorption and bioavailability is something we always focus on, in some cases, turmeric still has a beneficial role even with poor absorption. Interesting new research has found that curcumin could maintain the intestinal integrity and improve the barrier of the gut and and thereby decrease the release of gut bacteria-derived lipopolysaccharide (LPS), even with marginal absorption.   High levels of circulating LPS are linked to chronic inflammation and many metabolic disease. 2

Supplements v Dietary Intake?

While using Turmeric in cooking is a great idea, it may be difficult to get high amounts of the active ingredients in cooking.  Absorption is definitely enhanced by fats and black pepper - which is why these ingredients appear in the classic Golden Paste recipe. There will be many benefits from eating fresh or dried turmeric root as a regular part of your diet, but if you are after a superior action on inflammation, pain, bacteria or cancer, it will be more useful to take a quality supplement. Moreover, many people get sick of the turmeric taste in their cooking and may find it hard to get sufficient turmeric into their diet or regularly enough to have a big impact.

curcumin capsulesSupplements should have concentrated amounts of curcumin and also be combined in a way to enhance absorption - such as including the addition of liposomes or phospholipid complexes. Differences in absorption of different curcumin supplements can be as much as 10 fold, and you definitely pay for what you get! As practitioners, we source some of the best supplements, so come in and have a chat if you are interested in trying it out. In some cases we combine it with other herbs to give a more beneficial result.

All in all, Turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin are highly useful for many health conditions - both prevention and treatment.
It is so easy to include it in your diet, it also pares well with its sister plant, ginger, in cooking and medicine.  So try some of my Golden Paste and see how you go with this little gold nugget of a herb!

 

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24877064
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29420166

 

Dance for Health

Dance for Health!

danceFinding exercise that we love and want to do is the key to making sustainable, lasting habits.

Some of us need a form of exercise that involves a challenge, others need to be in a group or team environment to be motivated to exercise, while some of us like the steady rhythm of quiet time in nature while exercising. Whatever our own interest and experience, if we find something we enjoy, then it is easier to exercise regularly without the internal conflict of what you "should" be doing rather than what you "want" to be doing.

I have been a long term morning walker for many years, and coupled with yoga, this has been my main form of exercise. My morning walk provides physical exercise as well doubling up as a form of mindfulness practice and it also gives me a regular dose of time out in nature. I love to watch the sun rise each morning, which gives me the valuable benefit of sun gazing, alongside my mountain walk.  Walking is an easy exercise that nearly anyone can do, and it is easy to do it at a pace that suits you and in an environment that appeals to you.  Barefoot walking or beach walking is particularly good as it helps to also ground us and reduces inflammation in the body.

hunterSometimes, we want or need the additional benefit of some cardio though as so many of us are sedentary and modern life gives us few opportunities to really get the heart rate up or strengthen our muscles. New research shows that high intensity interval training alongside stretching and weights, gives superior benefits on cardiovascular health and fitness. High intensity interval can be done with short sprints - such as running or riding....or in my case - dancing! This form of exercise is aimed at mimicking what our hunter-gatherer ancestors did - by engaging in activities that build endurance and strength coupled with short bursts of cardio. In contrast, long distance running doesn't offer the same benefits.  Most cultures around the world also have forms of dance and creative movement, and traditionally dance has tended to be a part of both sacred or religious practice as well as entertainment.

dance2I have always loved to dance and for a long time never really thought it could be a regular form of exercise. In my younger years in Melbourne, while studying at uni, I would go out dancing to venues or to see live music, and often rode my bike there, drank water all night and road home again! I loved the escape of dancing and the fun social time with my friends and as a struggling student, it was a cheap night out! While I have danced on and off over the last decade or so, I found that raising young kids while working full time, didn't lend itself to much partying or dancing! Yet, dancing has found its way back into my life in a much bigger way over the past year.  I have now embraced it as a genuine form of exercise that I can incorporate into my day and weekly rhythm. The thing that I love about dance is that it serves as a form of exercise as well as a form of meditation and a way of expressing my emotions.

Dance really is medicine for the soul! Dance lets us get into our body, get out of our head and by using music that speaks to us, we are freed up to take a journey within and without. I also find that dance is the perfect way to get into my feminine energy of flow and creativity. Many modern women are stuck in the mode of busyness and achieving and working hard out in the world. All of which calls on our masculine energy and leaves us a bit hard edged and exhausted. When we shut down to our feminine flow, our creative energy is stifled and our physical bodies suffer. When we are stuck in our head, we tend to split off from our connection to our body - the very thing that houses and supports us!

wild danceWorking with our emotions and finding ways to regularly express them is super important at staying healthy on every level. Another article I have recently written on emotional health and detox highlights the many ways emotions can interfere with our physical health. By adopting a practice that gets you into your body, your senses and your feelings gives us an avenue to release tension and pent up emotions, free up our energy and boost our vitality.  There have been many modern dance practices that have been created to work with dance as a form of sacred movement and emotional release. The Five Rhythms and other conscious dance practices are very popular and even the No Lights, No Lycra dance nights show the popularity of people wanting to dance for health, fun and exercise.

So dance is the perfect embodiment practice to work with the emotions and with this in mind, I will be offering some local workshops and gatherings to explore dance and reawaken women to their feminine essence. I am blessed to have the perfect studio space on my hinterland property for workshops which doubles up as my dance studio and practice space.   The best part of dance as a form of medicine or therapy is that it is super fun and gets you fit in the process!

If you would like to learn more or participate in the women's dance nights, please click here or see the 'what's on' page for dates.

 

Emotional Health

Emotional Health: The Key to Optimal Health

Is it time to detox your emotions?

Finger art of people. The concept of a group of people with different personalities.After 20 years in practice, I can say without a doubt that emotional health is the ultimate key to really achieving optimal physical health. With all the research and modern scientific understanding we now have about us humans and the relationship between our emotions and how our cells function, we really can no longer separate out our physical issues and complaints from our emotional state, our state of mind and our spiritual wellbeing.

Many of us focus on caring for physical bodies and try to make healthy choices in foods and lifestyle habits. Likewise, it is hard to ignore the mainstream popularity of detoxing our physical bodies, as we are regularly told via magazines, television health shows and from social media gurus that the body needs a cleanse from time to time. And of course this is true! On top of the socially accepted "poisons" we choose to ingest such as cigarette smoking, alcohol and over the counter medicines, modern life also gives us a wide array of hidden environmental toxins.  Many things make their way into our bodies, without our express permission.  Most of us are exposed to a myriad of everyday toxins such as pollution from petrol fumes, paints, plastics, chemicals lurking in modern furnishings and pesticides in our vegetables to body care products, fragrances and preservatives and artificial colours in our foods.  All of these things take a toll on our health and can impact on our hormones, brain function, energy and immunity. So our body can certainly enjoy a break from this constant exposure from time to time and will definitely benefit from a good detox to boost our system, organ function and energy.

But what about the impact of our emotions, thoughts, beliefs and feelings?

Could these be impacting on our health and wellbeing too?

Is it beneficial to do an emotional and mindset cleanse?

The answer to these questions is a resounding YES!

HBModern research proves that the quality of our emotions and beliefs has a massive impact on our cells and body function. As much as it is easy to separate out our body from our mind and spirit for ease of understanding, in reality we function as one complex and highly coordinated dynamic system. Moreover, the directives that our body receives come from our heart and mind and thus the impact of our beliefs, programming and feelings will be felt right down into our cells. With the advent of modern science and medicine, we embarked on the path of deconstruction, compartmentalising and separating our body into systems and specialties. But before that, in most cultures around the world, the human being was always viewed and understood as a complex whole being - comprising physical, energetic and spiritual aspects. In all traditional medicine and healing philosophies across different cultures importance was always placed on the mind and emotions and now science has come full circle and is proving this to be true.

So getting in touch with our emotions, doing a bit of an inner detox is just as important as an outer detox. We like to promote the benefits of eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep, but being aware of your inner state and working consciously with your emotions and beliefs is paramount for optimal health and happiness.

There are a range of different methods to support emotional health - and by identifying and releasing old patterns and emotions I have found we can make a massive difference to our health, energy, wellbeing and inner state of mind. At the end of the day, we all want to feel happy, energetic and peaceful. Often our emotions are stored in our bodies and our physical body carries our stories. So many cases I have seen demonstrate the link between our emotions, old stuck patterns and subconscious beliefs and our physical health issues. So as a holistic practitioner always seeking to find the underlying cause of health issues, I tend to end up in areas beyond the physical. So over the years, I have trained in various methodologies to deepen my capacity to support healing on these more subtle and energetic levels in addition to the physical surface issues.

bodyemotionI find our bodies very effectively tell our stories or mirror our beliefs through our symptoms and signs and illnesses. Most of the time we are unaware of this link and so we poke and prod our physical bodies, aiming to reduce or suppress our symptoms as quick as possible through medications such as painkillers, antihistamines and antibiotics. In other words, we shoot the messenger before it has delivered the message! Which tends to mean the next message is louder and potentially more destructive - to get our attention.

What if instead of waiting until symptoms arrive on our doorstep or worsen, we dealt with our emotional health on a regular basis? Cleansing, releasing, healing and integrating our experiences and emotions is the foundation for deeper health and wellbeing. By doing this, our body is free to get on doing what it does best and it no longer needs to carry the emotional baggage we should have left behind at the last train stop!

There are many methods of doing emotional integration work and can range from inquiry, journalling and talk therapy, to guided visualisations and healings, through to more dynamic, fun and interactive body based methods and kinesiology. The best part of working with emotions and clearing them is the release and freedom that comes with letting go. It is amazing how quickly energy improves and symptoms can disappear, when the underlying cause is addressed.

suppTips to start working with your emotions include self inquiry techniques such as reflection, journalling, dream recall, art therapy and music  as well as finding ways to express your emotions regularly through the body - with movement, sound and breath.

If you would like to unlock old patterns or emotions and experience greater health and well being, then I would be very happy to work with you, facilitating this process. Together we can design a programme that is right for you, to allow you to move through things at a pace and style that suits you. Having facilitation and guidance always fast tracks your experience and helps you to reach your goals quicker!

 

 

Festive Season Health

The festive season is now upon us and that generally means an increase in social engagements.   While for most of us this is a fun time of year, it can also result in health issues such as sluggishness, weight gain and fatigue.  So let’s look at what goes on and how we can stay healthy during the Christmas and New Year period.

Alcohol is certainly the first thing most people think of when they think of the ‘silly season’.  Most of us know that alcohol and our livers are not good friends.  In fact, alcohol consumption can affect many different systems not just the liver.  Alcohol directly damages the stomach wall causing inflammation and alcohol is also a nervous system depressant, which can lead to mood change, irritability and depression – especially over time or with excess consumption.

The amount of alcohol that a person can safely consume is highly individual, depending on age, sex, weight and family history.  So the festive message is to be mindful of the affects that alcohol has on your body and take it easy.  Pace yourself with drinks (no more than one per hour) and drink hydrating water in between alcoholic drinks to avoid dehydration which is the major cause of hangovers.   You can easily make festive non-alcoholic drinks with plain mineral water by adding lime, mint and berries. Alcohol is rapidly absorbed on an empty stomach, so be sure to always eat something when you are having a drink.  Women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant should completely avoid alcohol. Supplementing with a multivitamin that contains good amounts of B vitamins is also a good idea to support your health especially at this time of year.

With all the socialising that comes with the festive season, many people not only drink too much but often end up eating too much food and more of the wrong kinds of food.  Finger foods at functions are often high in refined flour products and sugar and may be cooked in trans fats.  Try to avoid foods with artificial flavours, colours and preservatives which stress the liver and kidneys. Choose where possible healthy options such as raw vegies with dips, cheese, wholemeal pitta breads, succhi, fruit platters and nuts.  Avoid over eating by not eating lots of nibbles before dinner.  When planning your menus think about choosing lighter alternatives such as fresh seafood, salads, fruit and cheese instead of a hot, traditional festive lunch or dinner.  Also try to keep up your exercise routine, and think of swimming when the weather is too hot for other exercise.

Many of my patients find the festive season very stressful emotionally.  Some people are not close or compatible with their family and find getting together very difficult.  While others might feel lonely spending Christmas miles away from their family.  Regardless of our situation, nearly everyone gets a bit overwhelmed with the sheer busyness of the festive season.  However, we can approach Christmas with a different attitude and take time out for ourselves to reflect on the year, our friends and family.  This is particularly helpful with children who can get too easily caught up with the commercialism of the season.

Remember what the underlying meaning of this time of year is and seek to be more peaceful and content with simple pleasures.  We are lucky enough to live in a beautiful natural environment – so connecting to nature through the sea or the bush can bring much needed peace.  Try not to fill the social calendar to capacity, allow some time for a quiet night or day. Lastly, it is essential to try and get good quality and sufficient sleep as this will help recharge your batteries.  This might even mean taking a siesta - something we shouldn’t feel guilty about at this time of year!

chewing and brain function

Chewing and Brain Function

A Broad Impact on Health

carrotWho would have thought that the action of chewing food had a role other than to start the digestion process! Increasing research studies have found that mastication (technical term for the the action of chewing food) has a major impact on many aspects of our health. Chewing and brain function effects have been found in connection to learning, memory, focus and concentration.

Raw fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds and meat all demand more chewing. Many processed foods and cooked foods are softer and easier to chew through.  One of my pet hates when it comes to commercial food products are those ridiculous pouches of soft pureed fruit that kids consume direct from a tube, instead of chewing through an apple or orange! Now we know that this will have a negative impact on their brain, memory and learning.

On average, it is estimated that we chew 800 to 1,400 times a day.  We generally recommend chewing our food slowly, at least around 15 times, but for many foods we don't need that long and realistically swallowing is in an instinctive behaviour. We simply know when food is chewed well enough and then we naturally swallow. While it may seem logical that easy to digest food is a good thing, in reality we haven't evolved with soft foods. Many of the pathways that stimulate digestive juices and gut motility (that are essential for digestion) stem from the action of chewing and the taste of foods. Bitter foods for example are highly stimulating for digestion and chewing sends signals to the brain that stimulate the gut to prepare for food.

Good Teeth Are The Key!

elderlyAs we age, many people have declining memory and focus and concurrently may also suffer from poor dental function. With bad teeth, elderly people often resort to soft foods that don't tax the teeth, however this may lead to unexpected negative consequences. Not only will the gut not get clear signals for digestive juice manufacture, we now know there are more broad problems that can arise in distant regions of the body.  In particular, we know that mastication has a direct impact on learning and memory formation and so poor dental health can impact the brain. For instance, research has shown that the systemic effects of tooth loss are a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

The hippocampus is the brain region that is involved with forming memories and it seems that the action of mastication, stimulates this area. Functional MRI studies can compare the difference in brain region activity in different populations. The acquisition of memory in elderly people was significantly enhanced by chewing, but benefits of chewing had less effects in younger people.

Interestingly, another study found that lower intakes of nutrient-dense foods and higher intakes of unhealthy foods were also both independently associated with smaller left hippocampal volume. So it seems that it is both the processed foods being both nutrient poor and requiring less chewing that create a perfect storm for brain impairments.

Researchers have also found that a reduction in corticosterone production is another way that mastication can have a role in poor brain function. Thus a chronic stress state is induced by poor chewing activity and this can in turn lead to learning and memory impairments.  Concurrently, the act of chewing during stressful conditions was shown to attenuate the effects of stress on cognitive function. This has been further explored by some researchers with a recommendation to chew gum as a way of enhancing memory and cognition and delaying the development of dementia and also ameliorate the effects of stress on the brain.

appleSo there are so many reasons to chew your food well, and make sure the foods you eat include some types that require lots of chewing - like raw veggies! Also, it serves that foundational to this whole approach is to also ensure optimal dental hygiene. So if you choose to chew gum to boost your memory, make sure it is sugar free or contains xylitol which has been shown to reduce oral bacteria and prevent gum disease.

 

To learn more about maintaining healthy teeth through whole foods  - see this previous article.

 

Spicy Rainbow Coleslaw

Spicy Rainbow Coleslaw

Ever heard the term "eat the rainbow?"

20170922_122641_resized[1]Coloured veggies are known to pack a potent punch of goodness providing plenty of plant based antioxidants that our bodies just love! The carotenoids that give vegetables particular colours can improve our cardiovascular health, prevent cancer and support eye and skin health. So us naturopaths are always encouraging our patients to get a wide variety of different coloured veggies into their diets - effectively eating a rainbow of colours!

I find lunch is the perfect meal for getting a good nutritious boost of salad into your day. I often have patients who have other family members who aren't as adventurous or health conscious as they are. The evening meal has to work for everyone, because who wants to cook more than one dinner, right?!

Whereas, many of us eat a separate lunch at work or home - especially once the kids are at school and take a packed lunch. So lunch time can be a handy way of getting an extra intake of salad or veggies that might be missing at dinner.  I recently created this super food salad bowl, a spicy coleslaw recipe, rich in the coloured goodness of veggies and protein and is a tasty way of getting tonnes of nutrients into you!  Herbs and spices should be added to as many of your foods as possible as they are potent sources of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals - and they make everything taste more delicious!  

Enjoy!

Spicy Rainbow Salad Recipe

 20170922_125721_resized[1]

 

Food Cravings and Instinctive Eating

Exploring the science behind food cravings...

Kale please, Mum!

Kale - rich in nutrients like vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin A, manganese, calcium, iron, magnesium and B vitamins.... just what a sick body needs for a boost!

Kale - rich in nutrients like vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin A, manganese, calcium, iron, magnesium and B vitamins.... just what a sick body needs for a boost!

After my son requested a bowl of kale (with lots of butter, please!) when he was recently sick, it got me thinking about the science behind instinctive eating. Hidden in our intelligent body are mechanisms that initiate cravings for certain foods that our body needs. But judging by the way most people eat, I think we have lost the art for healthy instinctive eating.

I am always fascinated how animals are so instinctive with their food choices - and yet humans seem to need to google for advice about what foods are good for them or maybe they come see a nutritional health professional like me!

So what went wrong?  When did we humans stray so far from our innate intelligence about what is good for us to eat? Most cravings we experience now are for the addictive substances like caffeine and sugar! While we all know the damaging effects of too much sugar, the cravings for sugar have do a biological drive behind them. Those hardwired desires for sugar, meant we ate sweet foods when they were available seasonally and they kept us alive and ensured our survival through the lean winters of bygone eras. Unfortunately we have gone overboard on this front as modern life allows us to eat whatever we want, whenever we want. We are no longer at the mercy of nature to provide our food - we are indeed spoilt for choice!

food habits over time

The change from eating close to nature towards modern food processing has resulted in chronically unhealthy humans.

I think the superpower that created us all those years ago, clearly didn't predict a time when we would be so disconnected from nature and our food supply. The clever system that allowed humans to flourish throughout history with all sorts of hardships, does not seem so clever now when we look at how we have ended up the fattest and most chronically unhealthy species. We were smart enough to develop agricultural methods of growing grains and crops, domesticating animals and eventually creating modern food manufacturing methods of processing and preserving. Clever on the one hand, yes, but our genetics unfortunately takes thousands of years to catch up with a changing landscape, not hundreds of years!  So we are now at the mercy of a very different food and eating landscape than we were designed for, and where our fine tuned instincts for certain foods have gone been hijacked by the drive for sugar!

Food brings with it not only sustenance but also pleasure. Everyone has experienced the multilayered sensory pleasure of a delicious meal. Modern neuroscience has now started to uncover some of the underlying mechanisms of associated brain changes that come with eating for both pleasure and health benefits. Overall, the accumulated evidence shows that the innate pleasure evoked by tasty food is remarkably similar to that of other rewards. This suggests that an innate pleasure system exists for humans, and is activated when we engage with food, sex, social and other higher-order rewards. So indeed, we are hard wired to seek pleasure as well as survival. Food is thus not only highly pleasurable but also an excellent way of learning fundamental principles of brain function.
pica

Pica is the craving for 'unnatural' food choices such as dirt, that may herald a mineral deficiency as dirt is rich in minerals that the body may need.

Instinctive eating - essentially means eating what our innate intelligence determines to be good for us. We are all born with the ability, much like other animals, to select appropriate food for our requirements. For example, a craving for bananas may show you are lacking potassium, while a craving for green leafy veggies may indicate you need more magnesium. The term 'pica' is used to define mineral deficiencies (often iron) that results in people eating strange things - such as dirt, rocks or ice. Most commonly seen in pregnant women and young children who have a high need for nutrients, pica is the most researched nutrient craving issue. Studies observe that individuals with symptoms of pica often have low iron, zinc or calcium levels. Supplementing with the lacking nutrients can reduce the pica behaviour in many cases. Craving for salt is also more common in those individuals who have low salt levels, so the wisdom of the body to correct the deficiency is obvious.

There is more evidence to suggest that, unlike hunger, for many of us cravings are largely about what your brain wants, rather than what your body actually needs.
Studies suggest that chocolate craving, especially among women, may result from a sense of deprivation or in reaction to stress, hormonal fluctuation and modulation of neuropeptide concentrations. The theory behind craving carbohydrates in order to make us feel happy, results from some observations that diet can modulate the serotonin system in the brain, which is linked to mood.
stressed

Emotional eating is a problem that can be explained by modern brain science.

Evidence also shows that our need to eat certain foods (often unhealthy types) is sometimes driven by emotions. Many people are "emotional eaters" and tend to eat for reasons that are driven by emotions and have nothing to do with being hungry or needing a nutrient. People who craved foods were shown in studies to more likely to be bored or anxious or have experienced a depressed mood immediately before cravings. Several brain imaging studies have shown that overconsumption of certain foods creates the same changes in the dopamine receptors of the human brain as alcohol and other addictive substances.

So all in all, we do not fully understand what is happening in our brains when we crave or consume certain foods. It is definitely a vastly complex process and is attenuated by many different cues coming from social and cultural inputs as much as nutritional drivers. For example, most celebrations have particular foods that are so strongly associated together that we barely question it.  What is a birthday celebration without the birthday cake?

The one thing that is worth taking home is to pay more attention! Try to differentiate when the craving is just coming from an old habit or an emotional driver and see if you can notice cravings for healthy choices that might still be available to you.  Tune in first, before you eat and see what your body really wants! If you find you are really stuck on an underlying pattern with your eating habits or food choices, remember that there is a lot we can do (such as mind/body techniques like Psych K) to help remove the block and give you more freedom around food, so consider coming in and getting extra help!  

Buon appetito!

adventures in Ireland & London

Adventures in Ireland & London...

I took off on a girl's own adventure of sorts in June and July - to visit Ireland and London....here are my highlights!

20170622_055407_resizedAfter spending the best part of the last 15 years busy mothering and working, it was a rare treat to have some solo time for travel. As I was heading to speak in London at the International Naturopathic Congress, I decided to take some time out to complete a short pilgrimage walk and do some mountain hiking through Ireland. It had been on my 'bucket list' for a while, so the universe aligned and it seemed that my time had come. Although I dislike international flying, it was easier traveling solo without the kids.  When arriving in Dublin after 24 hours of flying, I got locked into my Airbnb accomodation. I was deliriously tired and starving, but in the end was rescued by a lovely young woman who took me under her wing and took me out with her, showing me some famous Irish hospitality. Half way through the evening we discovered we were both McElroy's and both of our grandparents/great grandparents heralded from County Tyrone. So we decided we were probably related as distant cousins of sorts, which was the strangest synchronicity!

 

20170622_071413_resizedI soon headed off from bustling Dublin to the magical Irish countryside where I started my pilgrimage walk, in the name of Brigid - Ireland's ancient goddess/Saint. I spent 3 days making my way through rural areas, farms, forest, bogs and along the grand canal to finally arrive at the historic town of Kildare. I was the only one doing the walk as a solo pilgrimage, and I often walked without seeing anyone else for hours.  This was a wonderful adventure that included getting lost a few times, swimming in the canal, tended my blistered feet (!), communing with nature and being very, very grateful that Ireland has no snakes or other things that could kill you while hiking in the middle of summer through long grass!

The lush green land, gentle sun and mild weather made it a perfect few days.  After arriving at Kildare, rather exhausted from my 50+km walk I spent a couple of days in the hermitages at the lovely Solas Bhride centre, visiting Brigid's sacred well and cathedral, walking the  spiral labyrinth and spending time in quiet contemplation. The women who run this beautiful centre were kindred spirits of sorts and very inspiring for me.

 

Beautiful Inistioge

Beautiful Inistioge

I then hired a car, headed through the pretty countryside visiting lovely towns such as Inistioge in the Nore Valley, and then made my way to Wicklow Mountains. Hiking along the rugged windswept mountains and down to the lakes below was an amazing experience. Lough Tay and Lough Dan were just spectacular! After Wicklow I then headed up to Meath where I stayed in a stone cottage for a couple of days and visited the ancient sacred sites of New Grange and Knowth. Amazing that these stone megalithic tombs are estimated to be 5000 years old, and made before the wheel was even invented.  I was blessed with lovely weather for most of my 10 days in Ireland and this magical trip will always hold a special place in my heart.

 

20170702_084334_resized

At the ICNM Congress

Heading to the busy, big smoke of London was a bit of a shock after rural Ireland! But I soon got my bearings and had a great week there - and was happy to see my sister for a few days, who popped over from her home town of Milan to visit. London highlights included visiting the Chelsea Physic Garden, walks through Hyde Park, seeing the musical Wicked, lots of amazing food and yes, some retail therapy on Oxford Street!  The final weekend was the International Congress on Naturopathic Medicine - which was a great conference attended by over 500 delegates from around the globe.

So all in all I had a wonderful time away and it was a little hard to come back home to work and kids and the general busyness of my life. So I am determined to hold onto the spaciousness that I created and try to find a better work-life balance for myself. Lots of plans were hatched for creating new programmes and various ideas for my future work - which will no doubt unfold over the coming months.  I hope you enjoy the photos and slideshow below!

 

 

Placebo effect

It’s all in the mind….exploring the power of the placebo effect

pillThe placebo effect is a term used to describe the benefit someone derives from taking a ‘medicine’ that is, in fact, not a medicine.  When people take something they believe to be a medicine, the power of their belief causes a shift in their thinking which then in turn can influence the physiology of the body.

In 1955, the scientist Henry Beecher published the classic work entitled “The Powerful Placebo” and he was the first scientist to define the placebo effect. Since that time, the placebo effect has been considered a scientific fact and the placebo or ‘dummy’ pill has been used to test the validity of drugs and treatments.  Unless a drug exhibits effects that are greater than the placebo, the drug is not considered effective. This powerful effect can be as high as 30-40% in some cases. Depression for example, has a fairly high placebo rate – with many people reporting improvements in mood whilst taking the placebo pill.  Other researchers have found that 85% of the effectiveness of cough syrups can be attributed to placebo, leaving only a tiny 15% to be active medicine. Side effects have even been reported in healthy volunteers taking placebo pills during clinical studies.

Research has been conducted for quite a few years into the placebo effect and how we might harness this in medicine.  After all if people can get better taking a dummy pill, then why don’t we use this effect more often? Placebo pills are biologically inactive and are thus safe and (should) have no side effects!

positiveSo why does the placebo pill work?  Our beliefs and expectations can influence and modulate activity in areas of the brain that are involved with perception, pain and the processing of emotion.  Researchers have shown that our mental processes such as thoughts, feelings and beliefs as well as our will and intention can significantly influence brain function.   Once upon a time, science viewed the way the brain functions as rigid and difficult to influence - especially in adulthood. However, we now know that the brain is far more open to influence and change and is in fact not rigid but quite ‘plastic’.  The term ‘neural plasticity’ has been coined to represent the fact that brain function is malleable and open to influence by our own subjective intention.  Once we have control over the master organ – we then have far more control and influence over the rest of the body’s functions.

So if we can positively influence our physiology through the ‘placebo’ effect – is it possible that we can negatively influence our body function through negative thinking?  This has, in fact, been shown to be true and has been given the term the ‘nocebo’ effect.  The nocebo effect has been scientifically proven, showing that with negative messages and verbal suggestions a patient can experience a worsening of their disease experience and outcome. It is not all just in the mind either – as blood tests shown increased inflammatory and pain markers after a nocebo procedure.

drpatEven when someone is given a diagnosis of illness – particularly serious or life threatening illness – the nocebo effect can start to operate.  This is why I find it counterproductive when well-meaning medical specialists tell a patient that they have “3 months to live” or they give similar limited predictions and opinions.  Research has shown that the anxiety and stress that this causes can negatively influence pain, immunity and mood – and go on to negatively influence the disease progression.

Another aspect of this mind over matter business is when a person creates an illness. In these cases, that despite the inconvenience and suffering of the disease, the experience is giving the patient some other positive reward.

I love bringing mind-body aspects into healing as it can really support healthy outcomes. Helping people to see how their thinking and beliefs influence all aspects of their physical health and subjective experiences is really rewarding. Even asking the question how their disease may be benefiting them often brings many insights and shifts.

So if we have a choice to influence our physical reality with positive or negative thinking and beliefs – then why not focus on the positive!

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.

 

 

 

Upcoming Events
Mar
16
Fri
6:30 pm Women’s Red Tent & Dance Evening @ Cooroy Mountain
Women’s Red Tent & Dance Evening @ Cooroy Mountain
Mar 16 @ 6:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Women's Red Tent & Dance Evening @ Cooroy Mountain
This special evening is run in two parts – a facilitated red tent style circle followed by a space to explore sacred dance and movement.  Come together with other women to share and explore feminine[...]
To me Karen is an absolute angel! I highly recommend Karen to anyone who is going through the whole ‘roller coaster’ journey of IVF. It was so lovely to actually have someone that actually listened to me, it was in 2010 when we decided we would give IVF one last go before having a break. Karen put me on a super tonic which I call her ‘magic potion’ and after a few weeks in taking this my FSH levels dropped dramatically and this was my lucky month and my dream had finally came true. I always feel so positive every time I leave Karen’s rooms, I’m so glad that I found her I can never thank her enough for my positive out come!
Megan Wolarczuk
Subscribe to Blog

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.