Allergy

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.

 

 

natural treatment for autoimmune disease

Natural Treatment for Autoimmune Disease

We have seen a real increase over the past few decades in a host of diseases that are often called diseases of affluence. These degenerative diseases are on the rise include heart disease, cancer and a category known as autoimmune diseases.

Antibodies attack normal healthy cells in the body in cases of autoimmune disease.

Antibodies attack normal healthy cells in the body in cases of autoimmune disease.

Autoimmune diseases are a broad category that share a common immune dysfunction – essentially when the body attacks itself. In autoimmune diseases, the body fails to recognise itself correctly and starts to see its own tissues or cells as foreign it begins to attack the tissue as if it is a foreign invader. Immune cells, called antibodies, are created against our own tissue and launch an attack which destroys and damages the tissue.

Autoimmune diseases can affect many different parts of the body and there are thought to be more than 80 known autoimmune disorders. For example in rheumatoid arthritis the antibodies are directed against the joints causing inflammation, pain and loss of mobility. In Hashimotos or Graves disease the body makes antibodies against a person’s thyroid causing an overactive or underactive thyroid disorder. Other autoimmune diseases include inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohns diease), lupus, multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes. All autoimmune diseases result in destruction of tissue which leads to loss of function over time. Some people can get more than one autoimmune disease.

General symptoms of autoimmune disease may include fatigue, malaise and low grade fevers. Symptoms of autoimmune diseases can come and go with some cases going in to remission for years. Many patients report increased stress as a prelude to developing an autoimmune disease or as a flare up of existing autoimmune disorder. This can seem odd as we know that stress normally has a negative effect on the immune system as increased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, has an immune suppressant effect. So this reveals the complexity of the immune system – a system that has a delicate balance that can be easily upset.  Interestingly, many women find that their autoimmune disease goes into remission while they are pregnant as the immune system normally is mildly suppressed during pregnancy.

Causes of Autoimmune Disease

viral autoThe exact cause of autoimmunity is not known, but there are some theories as to why the immune system becomes aberrant. Other than stress, mentioned above, other triggers known to stimulate autoimmune disease can be infections – in this case the immune system gets a workout and the heightened activity appears to increase certain immune cells that can cause autoimmunity. Research has shown that viruses are behind many autoimmune disorders, with different potential actions such as molecular mimicry, bystander activation and the persistence of a virus that leads to high antibody levels. Multiple sclerosis, myocarditis and diabetes are three immune-medicated diseases often linked with virus infections. Allergies are another possible cause of autoimmune diseases. There is much research being done to identify possible allergens that can mimic our own body cells. For example some allergens have a very close resemblance to our own cells. The immune cells constantly circulate looking for the allergens but when they find the similar looking body cells they can attack these by mistake.

Treatments for Autoimmune Disease

Conventional treatments for autoimmune disease include suppressing the immune system with drugs (such as steroids) or it may require replacing a hormone or substance that has become deficient. For example in Type I diabetes, destruction of the pancreas impedes the output of insulin so the patient is required to inject insulin to maintain health. In Hashimotos disease, patients need to have thyroid hormone as the destruction of the thyroid tissue decreases the output of this essential hormone.

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

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

Naturopathic treatments assess the whole person and tries to identify imbalances that can cause dysfunction. Reducing the allergenic load of a patient can calm the immune response and may bring about a reduction in the symptoms of some types of autoimmunity. Assessment of an individual’s diet and digestive health is a very important component of managing autoimmune diseases. Removing potential food allergens and following an anti-inflammatory diet can definitely help some autoimmune diseases. Vitamin D deficiency has now been linked with a range of autoimmune diseases as the nutrient interacts with our genes and modulates our immunity. Many patients I have seen with autoimmune disease are very deficient in this important nutrient and correcting deficiency is essential.

Echinacea is a great immune modulating herb.

Echinacea is a great immune modulating herb.

Other nutrients such as omega 3 fats and certain herbs can bring about a reduction in inflammation and pain in some patients. There is often a mistaken belief that immune boosting herbs such as Echinacea should not be used in autoimmunity. This is incorrect, as many of the immune supportive herbs actually work to normalise and modulate immune function rather than stimulate it per se. For example in cases where the immunity is overstimulated the herbs can help to calm the response and in cases where the immune system is underactive the herbs can stimulate a normal response.

Other herbs such as Hemidesmus have more of an immune suppressant action. I have used immune modulating herbs many times with good outcomes in patients with autoimmunity. Consulting with a professional naturopath or herbalist is always the best way to get the right formula matched to your individual case.

Hopefully, more research in the future will uncover the causes behind autoimmunity and bring about increased understanding, improved prevention and better treatments.

 

Adrenal Health

Adrenal Health

suprarenalThe adrenal glands are small glands that sit like a hat on top of the kidneys. They are powerful little endocrine glands that manufacture and secrete steroid hormones such as cortisol, DHEA (which in turn can be made into oestrogen and testosterone) as well as adrenalin (sometimes called epinephrine). 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.  They 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. The adrenal hormones closely modulate many metabolic processes in the body:

  • the utilization of carbohydrates and fats
  • reproductive function and fertility
  • the conversion of fats and proteins into energy
  • bone density and muscle mass
  • inflammation and immune function
  • the distribution of stored fat  – especially around your waist
  • normal blood sugar regulation
  • proper cardiovascular function
  • gastrointestinal function and digestion

 

Some of the signs that your adrenals are struggling include:

stressENERGY & MOOD

  • low energy, tired all the time
  • up and down or erratic energy
  • tired but wired feeling
  • irritable, easily angered, cranky
  • depressed, sad, teary, anxious

SLEEP

  • poor sleep, waking often, insomnia, night sweats
  • increased need for sleep, excessive sleep
  • waking unrefreshed and tired in the morning

IMMUNE

  • recurrent illness (colds, flu, sinusitis)
  • take a long time to recover from simple disorder
  • chronic & autoimmune conditions like eczema, arthritis & allergies.

obesityDIGESTION, WEIGHT & BODY COMPLAINTS

  • headaches and migraines
  • craving sugar or caffeine
  • weight gain (especially around belly), difficulty losing weight,
  • digestive problems (irritable bowel, nausea)
  • muscle tension and pain
  • chest pain, difficulty breathing

Stress and Adrenal Function

It is important to understand the role of stress and how it influences adrenal function when we are looking at improving the function of the adrenals and optimizing energy and vitality.

The body has an inbuilt survival mechanism which allows us to mobilize its resources to escape or fight off danger and survive. The fight or flight response is a well known cascade of physiological effects that harness energy and strength to enable us to survive. While we may have evolved dealing with real life threatening situations (such as escaping from a wild animal or enemy clan) our bodily response to modern day stresses are the same. We don’t differentiate very well between true life threatening stress and mere emotional stress, because the part of our brain that responds to stress needs to act quickly and automatically. Taking time to consider the options and engage the rational mind, may delay actions that could be costly or deadly.

tired business manModern life for many of us is fraught with constant low grade stress. Even being available and switched ‘on’ 24/7 can often give us a feeling of mild stress. We are always anticipating the next thing to do or the next stress to deal with. Common stresses that I see amongst my patients include work dissatisfaction, a difficult boss, financial stress, relationship dramas and parenting demands. Then we also have the issues of environmental stress such as air pollution, electromagnetic radiation and chemicals in food and water. The stresses in turn can lead to a variety of physical and psychological health problems that can themselves be a further source of stress.

It is also the job of the adrenal glands to keep our body’s reactions to stress in balance so that they are appropriate and not destructive. Cortisol has a protective anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant activity that can help to minimize the inflammatory reactions in allergies and autoimmune disorders.

Adrenals & Reproductive Function

The adrenals are also responsible for producing DHEA which is a precursor to oestrogen and testosterone and thus have a role in reproductive function. Prolonged stress is a well known cause of reproductive dysfunction and in women can lead to delayed or lack of ovulation, erratic cycles or heavier periods.  In men, chronic or acute stress can impact on hormones and lead to lowered sperm count and poor libido in men. After mid-life when the ovaries and testes start to decline in function, the adrenal glands gradually become the major source of the sex hormones circulating throughout the body in both men and women. These hormones themselves have a whole host of physical, emotional and psychological effects, from the level of your sex drive to the tendency to gain weight. Thus, I find in my patients that the function and integrity of the adrenal glands is an important predictor of how easy or trouble free a woman's experience of menopause will be.

Stress Management – the key to healthy adrenals

corporate yoga womanLearning to manage our stress is essential for health and wellbeing on all levels. Much of what I do with many of my patients is help them make choices and create strategies that can moderate their stress. We go through all the events or situations which contribute to their stress load and identify the things that they can change in a practical sense. In some cases, even just changing our attitude or perception of situations can help decrease the effect of these stresses on our health and wellbeing.

Generally I find the two best strategies for managing life’s inevitable stresses are exercise and relaxation/meditation.  Some people find one is enough, but most people will benefit from doing both. In terms of exercise, though,  I want to emphasize that it is important to not overdo it. While many of us use exercise as a stress management tool, sometime it can add more pressure and physiological demands on our system. Many patients I have treated for adrenal fatigue and burnout have been over-exercising. Once they slowed down and did more gentle approaches, they started to improve.

I am a big fan of having a daily practice of some kind, such as meditation, yoga or breathing. Having a regular activity that allows us to pause and get perspective can make a big difference in how we feel and cope with stressful events. Learn more about managing stress with specific meditation and breathing tools I can teach you here.

 

Herbs & Nutrients for Adrenal Health

The first thing to know when it comes to supporting your adrenals is to ensure you choose foods and eating patterns that stabilize your blood sugar. Skipping meals or eating high carbohydrate or sugar laden foods will put more pressure on your adrenals (as well as your liver and pancreas!) Choosing regular meal times and ensuring there is a good quality protein (think eggs, nuts, seeds, dairy, meat/fish) at each meal. Protein and good quality fats will create a stable slow burning energy and avoid blood sugar swings. It is also good to avoid caffeine which can be too stimulating on worn out adrenals. There are a range of nutrients that can support optimal adrenal function and energy and normally I prescribe specific supplements designed to support the adrenal glands, that often include B vitamins, zinc, amino acids etc. You can learn more about foods and how they support energy here.

Holy Basil - a great herb for supporting the adrenals.

Holy Basil - a great herb for supporting the adrenals.

Herbs that support adrenal health are normally referred to as adrenal tonics or adaptogens. Kidney herbs can also be useful for supporting the adrenals. Some of my favourite adrenal herbs include Rhodiola, Withania, Siberian Ginseng, Licorice, Oats and Holy Basil. These herbs can help support our body to adapt and better cope with stress and promote good levels of energy. Generally speaking these types of herbs are taken for a period of at least 6-8 weeks and often for a number of months to get the best results in building resilience, conserving energy and preventing burnout during stressful or demanding periods.

 

So in summary, having well functioning adrenals is essential for optimal health. Take time to look after yourself, make healthy food choices, get regular exercise and manage your stress and you will be rewarded with healthy adrenals which will flow on and impact the rest of your body, mind and spirit!

 

Dangers of Doctor Google

Dangers of Doctor Google

Google-DrWith the advent of google and everyone being able to access health information, the general public has never been more aware and informed about health and disease. This is, for the most part, a wonderful thing. I am a major proponent of patient education and information and most of what I do is to promote self reliance in your diet and lifestyle choices and help you achieve optimal health and prevent disease.

The internet can be a wonderful tool for accessing information, recipes, ideas and other health tips. However, all this comes with a warning. 'Google' and other search engines are not always your friend and may indeed be a foe when it comes to health. There are dangers in seeking online advice, particularly when it comes to diagnosing an illness. Without the medical training and knowledge of tired 2the body, it can be hard to interpret the information and make sense of the often conflicting information. Research in the UK, found that around 25% of women made a wrong diagnosis based on using the internet for their health issues. In many cases they misdiagnosed breast cancer, thrush, high blood pressure and asthma. Researchers also found that at least 10% of women experienced unpleasant feelings and worry after their self-diagnosis.

I have had many instances of patients who have come in after googling their symptoms, and they are full of anxiety that they have a serious illness. Anxiety and panic attacks themselves are often the source of much googling and of course can mimic a range of other serious illnesses. We can get into overwhelm and worry very easily when researching health issues for ourselves or loved ones online. In the worse case scenario, we may make changes to our diet or take inappropriate supplements that can jeopardise our health. High profile cases that have been reported, include Melbourne parents who fed their new born infant rice milk as they were worried about dairy allergy. The infant ended up getting severe malnutrition and died from a systemic candida infection.

Karen@clinicAnother, often overlooked pitfall of managing your own health via online or virtual support is that you get exhausted managing your own health and you may be too close to your own case or your child's cases to get perspective. There is something really liberating in receiving support and care from a trusted practitioner who can give your a clear picture of what is going on and prescribe appropriate measures to take. Letting go and receiving support is healing in itself and is why I still seek the support and care of other holistic practitioners for managing aspects of my own healthcare.

Do You Know Where Your Nutritional and Herbal Supplements come from?

UnknownThe ability to easily access health information online has lead to a massive increase in self-prescribed medicines and people can now buy all sorts of things online from local and overseas companies. Sourcing your own vitamins and herbal supplements may be safe and appropriate. However, it is important to know that there are no safeguards in place for either what you have decided to take or the quality of what you end up purchasing. The quality of online and over the counter supplements can be highly variable.

Manufacturing standards are not as stringent in many countries producing herbal and nutritional supplements as they are in Australia. This includes the USA, China and India who are some of the leading manufacturers of herbal products. Products produced in some of these countries may have elevated levels of heavy metals, pesticides, or microbial contaminants, as herbs are not screened for contaminants in many countries. They may also contain low levels of stated herbal active ingredients, the wrong herb entirely, or be adulterated with other unknown ingredients. Many reported cases of serious side effects from herbal or nutritional products have been traced back to heavy metal contamination or poisonous herbs that were disguised or misidentified and included in the product. Clearly, taking products that are contaminated or adulterated poses a serious risk to the general public, especially those who are already unwell and more vulnerable.

As a practitioner I only source from companies that I can rely on for quality and effectiveness. I need to know that what I am giving my patients is what it says it is to ensure the best effect and outcome. I also need to be confident that there are no hidden nasties in any product such as fillers, binders or preserving agents that might cause allergies or have other negative impacts. For most Australian practitioner quality products, there is a high level of testing and quality assurance.

medherbHere are some of the standard guidelines used by a range of Australian practitioner suppliers who I recommend and prescribe:

  • Herbal ingredients are sourced where possible from organic, fair trade, sustainable or wild-crafted (harvested) crops.
  • Herbal ingredients are tested to ensure the correct material is used and the active ingredients of the herb are at an appropriate level.
  • Nutritional products are formulated with nutrient combinations that are appropriate and synergistic for the desired effect.
  • Nutritional ingredients are tested to ensure correct composition and include the ones that are most active and bio-available for the body to utilise.
  • Products are manufactured under stringent Good Manufacturing Practice conditions.
  • Finished products are tested again to confirm that active ingredients have survived the manufacturing process.
  • Microbiological tests are performed to ensure safety before released for sale.
  • Products are placed on stability trials so that you know what is on the label is in the product and that the product will be active until the use by date.

food allergy

Food Allergies & Intolerances

Sneezing, itching skin, watery eyes, digestive disturbances…these are all the tell tale signs of allergies and intolerances. There has been a dramatic rise in allergies over the past few decades, both food related and environmental.

allergy It is important to understand that food intolerance is different to food allergy. In the case of intolerance, the reaction is not immediate and the symptoms can be many and varied, whereas allergies give rise to reactions that tend to be immediate and more severe.

Allergies are common in children and many adults also suffer from allergies. Food allergy has been estimated to occur in around 1 in 20 children compared to only 1 in 100 adults.  However, the incidence continues to rise, with a study released in 2011 finding that 8% of 38,000 children surveyed were allergic to at least 1 food. Estimates for people suffering from food intolerance are far higher.

There has also been a fivefold increase in hospital admissions for anaphylaxis over the past decade. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergy that can be life threatening. Common foods that cause anaphylactic reactions are peanuts, egg and shellfish, while bee stings are another common cause. People with these severe allergies usually carry an Epipen (containing a shot of adrenalin) which can be lifesaving first aid in cases of accidental exposure to allergens.

Food intolerance is less severe but far more pervasive and often gives rise to chronic health issues. Common problems such as gluten intolerance (coeliac disease) and lactose intolerance are well known, however food intolerance to other foods is also widespread. Symptoms of food intolerance are the result of an overloaded immune system and often involve poor digestive function.

bloatingHere are some of the conditions linked to food intolerance:

  • digestive issues (bloating, wind, constipation or diarrhoea)
  • headaches
  • hyperactivity
  • restless sleep
  • frequent colds
  • eczema
  • asthma

 

There are many theories behind the rise in food allergies. These include the hygiene hypothesis – which states that we have distorted our immune function through lack of exposure to common bacteria. Our modern day obsession with hygiene and ‘antibacterial everything’ has actually lead to an imbalance in the immune system that favours the development of allergies. Challenges to the immune system by everyday bacteria are necessary for the development of normal immune function, particularly in children. Studies, for instance, have shown that children who live on farms or have pets are much less likely to suffer from allergies. Other theories relate to digestive function and the use of antibiotics, which can upset the normal gut flora and can promote inflammation and increased permeability of the gut to common foods.

FoodAllergiesDiagnosing food allergy or intolerance can involve different approaches. Traditional testing for IgE allergies (including anaphylaxis) normally involves skin scratch tests.   Tests for food intolerance are now available and practitioners specialising in allergy can perform these in their clinic with a small skin prick blood sample.  These food intolerance tests detect IgG or IgA antibodies to a range of common foods. While I use these tests in my clinic, I often find that doing a food elimination process followed by a food challenge will also give clear indications as to what foods are contributing to symptoms. The food intolerance blood tests cost between $250-$400, so the challenge is sometimes more affordable for some patients.

Once an allergen or food intolerance has been identified (either through a test or exclusion process), management normally involves avoiding the food for an extended period of time. In the case of anaphylaxis, normally the food needs to be strictly avoided for life. Though I have had quite a few adult patients who seem to have grown out of their severe food allergies that they had as a child. However, it is clearly not wise to experiment with food allergens that can cause anaphylaxis.

Slippery elm

Slippery Elm Bark - a great gut healing herb

Naturopathic treatment of allergies and intolerances also involves nutrients and herbs for healing the gut and supporting the immune system. Improving the microbiome of the gut is also essential to help heal and reduce inflammation. When done properly, intolerant foods can often be reintroduced without causing a reaction and they can then be included back into the diet. In some cases, however, people do better when they continue to avoid the food or only have it occasionally.

If you have lingering or unexplained health complaints, consider the quality of your diet and the possibility that food intolerance may be a feature. Come in for a visit and I can assess your case and recommend either testing or simple changes to your diet to establish what might be causing your health issues.

bloating remedies

Say Goodbye to Bloating!

bloatingBloating is a common complaint that many people suffer from and depending on the severity can be either inconvenient or quite distressing. Abdominal bloating can be due to a range of different conditions and from a holistic perspective, we always assess the patient from a much larger picture than just a cursory look at digestive function.
Let's look at the causes and some natural bloating remedies.

Probably the most common cause of bloating however, is simple digestive dysfunction caused by eating too much, eating the wrong foods or eating while on the run. One of the major causes of poor digestion and bloating can be a lack of digestive enzymes, including hydrochloric acid, that the stomach and pancreas produce. These enzymes help to break food down and when insufficient, can lead to bloating and fermentation as the food takes much longer to be digested than what is ideal. Digestive enzymes tend to decline with age, but stress is also another major reason for low enzyme levels and poor digestive function. When we are stressed, the nervous system switches over to “flight or fight” mode and in turn the stimulation to our digestive system is put on hold. When we eat while stressed or on the run, we often don’t allow our body to digest our food and symptoms of bloating, wind, reflux and sluggish digestion can prevail. So managing your stress, taking time out and slowing down to practice mindful eating is a good simple way to ensure optimal digestion.

gentian

Gentiana lutea - a classic bitter herb

 

The European habit of having an aperitif before meals is a traditional way of stimulating digestion. Often aperitifs are quite bitter in taste. The bitter taste creates a strong nerve reflex and stimulates release of digestive juices. Naturopaths often prescribe bitter herbs or foods before meals to promote optimal digestion. Gentian is my favourite bitter digestive herb that has been shown to increase gastric secretions.

It is amazing how much just slowing down and preparing properly to eat a meal with awareness will enhance digestion. Chewing our food well and eating slowly also helps to predigest our foods and prevents overeating. Following the Okinawan habit, known as “hara hachi bu” of eating to 80% full is a good idea.

 

IBSBloating may be connected to a condition called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This disorder is very common and presents with one or more of the following symptoms - bloating, wind, cramping, diarrhoea or constipation. IBS is a diagnosis often given to patients, when a range investigations fail to find any underlying pathology or reason for the symptoms. Many patients I have seen over the years had all the tests and were told by doctors that there was nothing wrong with their gut, and yet they still had symptoms that were quite debilitating. IBS is a very common condition and thought to affect up to one in eight people. There is no standard medical treatment for IBS, but I always find herbs and dietary change can make a big difference to the symptoms of IBS. Food intolerance to foods such as wheat and dairy products is quite a common cause of IBS and bloating. Not surprisingly IBS is often associated with stress and people suffering from anxiety have a high incidence of IBS.

 

Gut bacteria is an important component of digestive health. Whether we have a good array of beneficial bacteria or a collection of unhealthy bacteria will to a large extent determine our digestive function. Ongoing research into the human microbiome (gut flora) continues to display important ibs triggerslinks to many, often seemingly unrelated conditions, such as immune issues and mental health disorders. A relatively recently discovered condition called SIBO can also be a major cause of intestinal bloating and wind. SIBO stands for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and occurs when bacteria that are normally only present in the large intestine, migrate to the small intestine thereby causing havoc. These bacteria feed on carbohydrates in the diet and produce a range of gases such as hydrogen and methane, which in turn can cause bloating, discomfort and wind. Patients with SIBO will often feel worse after having fruits and other fermentable carbohydrates, often grouped as FODMAP foods. FODMAP is an acronym for specific fermentable sugars and carbohydrates – oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. These foods include many fruits, certain vegetables, legumes, wheat and dairy foods. The low FODMAP diet is often used to help treat SIBO and IBS sometimes along with conventional antibiotic treatments or herbal therapies when necessary.

 

So there are many possible causes of the dreaded abdominal bloating! Starting with a good look at your diet, eating practices and stress levels is the best place to start. If that doesn’t help then consider a full health assessment and we can do comprehensive functional testing for food intolerance and bowel issues as well as look at prescribing some herbal digestive remedies, enzyme supplements and more.

Remember while you are what you eat…you really are what you digest!

 

 

Food Intolerance

Could Food Be Contributing to Your Disease?

food_allergyWhile we all know that everyday foods should be harmless and even health-promoting things, when we discuss the topic of intolerance and allergy, food can become a sinister part of a complex problem.

The first thing to understand when looking at food intolerance is digestion itself. The purpose and process of digestion is about rendering an outside food useful for our body for maintaining our growth and development. In an ideal situation, we break down food with the help of digestive juices (enzymes and acids) into tiny molecules that can be used as building blocks in our body. When this breakdown process is incomplete, we can have foods that are absorbed as larger molecules that the body determines to be foreign invaders. Much like a virus or bacteria, the immune system can respond to these small food-derived molecules with a concerted effort of immune attack. This leads to a range of symptoms that can be life threatening at one end of the spectrum to causing mild discomfort at the other end.

More well known of these reactions are the classic food allergy which results in an anaphylactic response, which is an immediate and potentially life-threatening response to the protein in an offending food. Causing swelling of lips and throat, breathing difficulties and skin rashes such as hives, these allergies (which occur in around 5% of the population) are best managed medically or with an epipen. In contrast, a food intolerance involves a slightly different component of the immune system and tends to trigger symptoms which are unpleasant, but not overtly or immediately dangerous.

foodintoleranceMany food intolerance symptoms are often silent and sneaky and can be harder to pinpoint. Food intolerances are thought to affect significantly more people than allergies, with many remaining undiagnosed. Food intolerances are often found alongside other health issues and it is hard to establish cause from effect. Everything from autoimmune diseases and digestive issues to eczema, asthma and recurrent infections have been linked to food intolerance. Moreover, new understanding of the connection between the gut and the brain, has firmly pointed the finger at food intolerance being behind many cases of depression, anxiety, learning disorders and behavioural symptoms. New research has even shown how the complex flow on effects of food intolerance can lead to increased appetite and weight gain. Food sensitivities all have an inflammatory pathway as a common launching place. Once inflammation has set in, we get not only symptoms of pain and discomfort, but also dysfunction and disease. In some cases early symptoms of food intolerance are undetected. For instance, the brain has a lack of pain receptors, so inflammation and deterioration of the brain tissue is not felt and can be left undetected for a long time.

Diagnosing food intolerance can be as simple as removing a suspect food from the diet for a few weeks and observing for a change in symptoms. Sometimes, it is simpler and more accurate to do a food intolerance blood test, where antibody levels to different foods are tested. While a little expensive (around $250), I normally recommend these tests when the simple elimination processes have not been clear or revealing or when symptoms are more severe and a definitive result is sought more quickly.

From a naturopathic point of view, once a diagnosis of a problem food has been established, it is not a matter of simply avoiding the food. We also wish to support digestion, gut healing and repair to reduce the likelihood of future issues with foods and hopefully allow that person to eat that food again in the future! Stress is one of the biggest culprits in decreased digestive function, so a holistic approach always looks at managing stress and lifestyle. If you are suspicious that food intolerance may be playing a role in your health issues, then consider making an appointment for a comprehensive health assessment and I can help clarify things and create a individualised management plan for you.

 

 

 

 

Paleo Chocolate Walnut Brownies

 

Paleo Chocolate Walnut Fudge Brownies

These paleo chocolate walnut brownies are a wonderful treat that are super healthy compared to standard brownies that are laden with sugar and refined flours. Being grain free means they can be enjoyed by people following a grain free, paleo and GAPS diet.   I often make chocolate and date brownies with an almond meal base, but these just contain coconut flour which makes them extra fudgey and great for people with almond allergies.  I like cooking with coconut flour but I find it really does work best with lots of eggs, which lighten the texture. I hope you enjoy these chocolate fudgey treats!  Please let me know in the comments section if you have given them a go.  🙂

 

paleobrowniesIngredients:

  • 50g coconut flour
  • 40g cocoa
  • 50g walnuts roughly chopped
  • 3 eggs
  • 125g butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons honey

 

 Method:

  • Preheat oven to 150 degrees C.
  • Mix the coconut flour, cocoa and walnuts together in bowl, removing any lumps.
  • In separate bowl or in a food processor, beat together the eggs, melted butter, maple syrup, honey and vanilla.
  • Add flour mixture to egg mixture and beat together until well combined.  (Note: the final mixture is meant to be quite runny.)
  • Pour into a greased shallow ceramic/glass rectangular dish (approx. 30cm x 18cm).
  • Bake for 30 minutes or until set and cooked through (check skewer comes out clean)
  • Allow to cool in dish before cutting into squares.
  • Store at room temperature for about 3 days....if they last that long! 🙂

 

Vitamin C

Vitamin C - not just for colds!

When we think of Vitamin C we often think of it in relation to colds and immune health. But vitamin C is a vitamin with far reaching effects and benefits in the human body.

Did you know that humans are one of only a couple of species (including guinea pigs) who cannot manufacture their own vitamin C? Even plants make vitamin C!  The theory is that we lost the ability to produce it over time because our diets were rich in vitamin C and we no longer needed to make it.  However, most of us now have a diet that is rich in processed foods and we do not live as close to nature – so in most cases we do not get our foods straight from the garden and our vitamin C intake has been much reduced.  Vitamin C levels decline easily in foods once they are picked or processed, so that by the time we eat even so called ‘fresh’ foods thelevels are often very low.

Animals are known to increase their production of vitamin C when they are sick or stressed – sometimes to amazing levels.  Acting as a free radical scavenger (or antioxidant), vitamin C is able to protect the body against toxins and stress.  Scurvy is the classic sign of gross vitamin C deficiency – giving rise to easy bruising, skin lesions, bleeding gums, depression and fatigue. While most people consume enough vitamin C to prevent overt scurvy – which is about 50mg per day, there are also theories that many western people suffer from a more chronic kind of scurvy – due to insufficient vitamin C levels.  This has been implicated in a range of conditions from cardiovascular disease to cancer, skin conditions, premature ageing and diabetes.  It is an essential nutrient for adrenal health and when we are under stress we go through lots of vitamin C.  Anyone who smokes, will also use up around 5-10mg of vitamin C per cigarette, so there is another reason to quit!  Vitamin C also acts as a natural anti-histamine and is great for allergies and inflammation.

While focusing on a healthy diet rich in vitamin C foods is recommended , supplementing is also worthwhile – particularly if you suffer from stress, immune dysfunction or your diet is not always optimal.  Foods rich in vitamin C include most fruits and vegetables – particularly wild berries, rosehip, acerola cherry, guava, parsley, citrus, capsicum, tomatoes.

The native Australian fruit the Kakadu plum (pictured right) has the highest known source of vitamin C – giving around 1000-5000mg per 100g! Meats – especially liver also contain vitamin C.  Remember that cooking foods will reduce the vitamin C content by around 50%, so be sure to have some raw foods in your diet.

Supplements can be in powder or tablets and should really contain bioflavonoids for best effects, as this is how they occur in nature.  Massive doses of injectable vitamin C have also been used in modern medicine for treating cancer.  As a water soluble nutrient the risk of toxicity is minimal as it is readily excreted when consumed in excess.  The standard of bowel tolerance is often used when dosing vitamin C supplements. As loose stools are a transient sign of excess intake, we generally recommend dosage be scaled back if this occurs.

Please discuss this if you think you could benefit from vitamin C next time you visit the clinic, and we can look at the best one for you from the range of vitamin C supplements, I stock.

 

 

The Common Culprit in Snoring, Infections, Behavioural Problems & Overcrowded Teeth

 

So what do snoring, ear infections, behavioural problems and overcrowded teeth all have in common?

This eclectic array of common childhood complaints may seem diverse and unrelated but in fact they all have a common root cause.  I thought to write about this as I just came across a new study* that reported preschool kids who snore are three times more likely to also suffer from behavioural disorders.

The researchers could only come up with a couple of plausible causes for this - including poorer sleep and lack of oxygenation to the brain.  While these are certainly going to play a small role, in my opinion, there is a much more likely reason for this.

 

For many kids, especially three to six year-olds, loud snoring is caused by enlarged tonsils or adenoids. Enlarged tonsils and adenoids are also linked to recurrent ear infections and of course tonsillitis.   Conventional medical solutions normally involve surgery to remove the adenoids or tonsils to improve the child's breathing and reduce their ear and throat infections.  While we can survive without adenoids and tonsils, I think we can do better than simply whipping out these important immune organs.

From my perspective this is just symptomatic and fails to address the underlying problem, which is nearly always food intolerance and environmental allergens.  When children are exposed to allergens either through the diet or through the environment - their immune system reacts by producing more mucus to help trap the airborne allergens and also it releases immune agents (such as histamine) and increases the output of antibodies and other immune cells. The tonsils (and neighbouring adenoids) are a first line of defence and where our immune system does much of its production of the important immune cells.

All this immune activity causes an enlargement in the adenoid and tonsillar tissue.  Adenoids can get so large that they seriously impede on the airways - and not enough air can be obtained from normal nasal breathing leading to kids resorting to mouth breathing.

And now - here is where the crowded teeth issue comes along.  When we breath through our mouths, we must have our lips apart and our tongue tends to move away from resting in the upper hard palate where it belongs.  The muscular pressure of the tongue and lips are largely responsible for shaping the upper palate into a nice broad arch.  Without this support, the palate tends to grow less favourably and more a narrow palate results - which in turn cannot comfortably house the emerging adult teeth. Then we get overcrowded teeth - which is a very common problem today.

Lastly, let's look at behaviour. This is where food allergies come in.  Of course, I agree with the researchers that children who snore are more likely to get poorer sleep and decreased oxygenation to the brain and this will have a hangover effect on learning and behaviour.  When kids are tired, they get more easily frustrated and have less capacity for delayed gratification which can lead to 'behavioural issues'.  From my clinical experience with kids with behavioural disorders though, I generally find that it is food intolerance (along with a generally poor diet) that is driving the problem. Intolerances to common foods have been linked to digestive issues and in turn can affect the way the brain functions.  When we can sort this out, children can function more normally, learn better and be happier and more resilient.

 

My motto is that children are always doing the best they can  - given the circumstances they find themselves in.  Kids don't deliberately want to be annoying, aggressive or mean. Their capacity to cope with the world is a combination of learnt behaviour and modelling from the adults closest to them,  alongside a delicate interaction with their environment - food, water, allergens and other everyday exposures.

Let's start treating kids with the respect, intelligence and sensitivity that they deserve and create an environment and healing paradigm that allows them to truly flourish.

 

 

 

 

* Research paper can be found here

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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
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