emotions

Stress and weight gain

Stress and Weight Gain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Self Care

Radical Self Care

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Bookending Our Days

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Self Care Strategies

 

 

herb trial

Are you or a friend experiencing anxiety or depression?

You are Invited to Participate in a Herbal Medicine Clinical Trial

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

Your Medicine Costs Will Be Covered

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

Who is eligible for treatment and participation?

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

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

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

What if I am on medication already?

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

What is the benefit for me?

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

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

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

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

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

Looking forward to helping your heal with herbal plant power!

 MediHerb Logo Endeavour logo UTS logo 2

preventative medicine

Preventative Medicine is the best medicine!

health happyThe traditional medical establishment often defines health as simply the absence of disease. However there are so many layers to wellness and health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defined health in its broader sense in 1946, stating that health is "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." This definition is starting to get closer to a holistic definition of health and wellness. In 1986 the WHO went on to extend the definition of health beyond it being a state to achieve, saying that health is "a resource for everyday life, not the objective of living. Health is a positive concept emphasizing social and personal resources, as well as physical capacities.”

Preventative medicine and holistic health has been around for centuries but is once again the way of the future, as right now as a culture we have lost touch with the foundations of health. A true definition of health needs to take in all layers of our being – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. If something is out of balance in any of these areas of our life, we are bound to end up sick. Most health approaches to wellness focus on supporting the physical body. The physical body is incredibly good at maintaining health and balance when we look after it in the right way. This includes making good lifestyle choices, eating nutritious foods and getting regular exercise.

benchHowever, wellness may also mean letting go of thoughts, feelings and beliefs that are getting in the way of achieving happiness in any given moment. This mind-body connection in health and disease is now well established in even mainstream medical research. Our state of mind has a powerful influence over our physiology - you only have to look at the oft-cited placebo affect. It is hard to feel physically energetic and well when we are experiencing sadness or depression. Yet it also follows that with a healthy frame of mind, wellbeing and happiness can even be experienced despite physical ailments.

In Australia we have a system of health care that is considered amongst the best in the world. Like most western countries however, our ‘healthcare’ industry could really be bloatingbetter defined as a ‘disease care’ industry. Mainstream medicine is good at managing diseases with their armory of drugs, surgery and technology. However, they are not so adept at preventing people getting sick in the first place. In traditional Chinese medicine doctors used to only get paid when their patients were well. As soon as a person got sick they stopped paying their doctor – as they were deemed to have not done their job properly if someone got sick under their care!

This seems like a good system – but it is a far cry from how medicine is practiced in most countries today. Yet, so many of our chronic diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes are considered diseases of lifestyle and can be prevented.

When you focus on promoting wellness and preventing disease there should be many steps to take before you end up on drugs or undergoing surgery. Attending to the basic foundations of sleep, exercise, good nutrition and stress management is a great place to start. Then non-invasive therapies like meditation, counselling or yoga may be useful, followed by safe and supportive treatments like herbal or nutritional supplements or physical therapies like acupuncture or chiropractic. Powerful pharmaceutical drugs and surgery should be a last resort and while we are grateful that they exist, unfortunately they are a first resort in many instances for basic health issues.

chamomileAs a naturopath, I feel like I have done my job properly if I can motivate and support my patients in making good diet and lifestyle choices that prevent them getting sick. Educating and empowering people to take charge of their health and look after themselves is a foundation of holistic healthcare practice.

The next time you are faced with a health issue, take some time to reflect on what might be out of balance in your life. Then take some steps to make positive changes to your lifestyle, deal with emotional stress before popping the next wonder pill on the market!

Don't forget if you need help sorting through the possible underlying causes, then come in for a session. I love searching for the cause and often joke that I am like a dog with a bone with difficult cases!

 

 

Natural Solutions For Hypertension

Natural Solutions for Hypertension

heart steth

Hypertension is a major risk factor for many diseases

Hypertension is also known as high blood pressure and is a very common medical condition in developed western countries.  Hypertension is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and has been linked to heart failure, stroke and kidney dysfunction.  High blood pressure is often known as the ‘silent killer’ as many people with it have an absence of symptoms and go undiagnosed.

Blood pressure is essentially a measure of the pressure that is exerted by the circulating blood on the body’s blood vessels.  With each heart beat blood pressure varies slightly. The maximum pressure exerted is called ‘systolic’ and the minimum pressure is ‘diastolic’. These terms are used in measuring and diagnosing a person’s blood pressure – with the measure showing systolic pressure over diastolic pressure in mmHg, for example a normal reading is 120/80. An elevated reading (at or above 140/90) over three visits to a medical professional will give a diagnosis of hypertension.

Hypertension is either classified as primary or secondary hypertension – referring to whether it is a stand-alone condition or it is a secondary symptom of another disease process.  For example, high blood pressure can result from kidney disease – as the kidney is an organ that has a role in regulating blood pressure.  However, most cases of hypertension are considered ‘primary’ and thus they have unknown or poorly understood causes.

sphygmo

There are many natural solutions for hypertension

Blood pressure normally varies throughout the day and also over the course of one’s life.  For example, children have lower normal ranges than adults  and blood pressure tends to be higher in the elderly – primarily due to less flexibility of the blood vessels. Also blood pressure varies with exercise, sleep and digestion.  Emotional reactions can have a strong influence on blood pressure and many people suffer from ‘white coat hypertension’ – where the anxiety about having their blood pressure checked by a doctor, causes it to be elevated.

Environmental factors, diet, stress levels, behaviour patterns and genetics are all thought to play a role in the development of hypertension. The typical western diet is often implicated – with excess intake of processed foods, sugar, salt, refined fats, alcohol and caffeine, along with a shortage of fresh, whole foods, water and fibre.   Lifestyle factors linked to hypertension include lack of exercise, smoking, stress, occupational hazards and obesity. It is always important to address as many underlying causes as possible.

Research over the past two decades at the HeartMath Institute in America has found a direct link between high blood pressure and stress. They have found that stress activates the sympathetic nervous system, which increases adrenaline. Adrenaline makes the heart beat faster, causes blood vessels to constrict and initiates the production of the major stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol causes blood-vessel constriction as well as salt and water retention in the kidneys and results in elevation of blood pressure. I have trained in HeartMath techniques and incorporate these along with other mindset and meditation tools to help people manage stress, anger and anxiety and transform their emotions. Learn more about these techniques here.

Hawthorn is one of the best herbs for the heart.

Hawthorn is one of the best herbs for the heart.

There are many natural solutions for hypertension and natural medicine has an important role to play in managing high blood pressure.  Assessing each person’s case history from a holistic perspective will reveal their individual contributing factors to their hypertension and a treatment plan can then be designed.  Herbs such as Hawthorn and Dan Shen have been traditionally used for managing cardiovascular complaints and have been shown to lower blood pressure in some studies. Herbalists normally combine a range of herbs to suit the person’s individual presentation.  For example, if they are stressed or need to lose weight different herbs will be indicated. Other supplements such as omega 3s, vitamin E, magnesium, garlic, ginger and turmeric may also be beneficial.

Preventative health is always about educating people so that they make healthy choices and prevent disease from occurring.  Understanding the benefits of a healthy diet, stress management and making wise lifestyle habits can make the difference between getting a disease or not. Hypertension, like many western diseases is a symptom of the body being out of balance.  It heralds a time to assess your life and make some positive changes!

 

 

 

Harmful Effects of Screen Time

Harmful Effects of Screen Time

Kids and Media Use:  How Much is Too Much?

School holidays are fast approaching again! Many parents (and kids!) look forward to less routine, no school lunches and rushed mornings! Hopefully the spring weather will draw kids outside to play in nature and at the beach - but many children I see in my clinic tend to spend their holidays stuck behind screens. Without the 'school night' curfews, often it is a free for all when it comes to kids and screen time during holidays.

So are screens (TV, computers, mobile devices) harmful and should we be limiting our children’s time in front of them?  Normally when we look at holistic health we include all manner of things - from diet and lifestyle to family history and individual health history.   I always ask children (or their parents) about not only their food diet but also their media diet. Just like food, media experiences must be ‘digested’ and fully understood and essentially ‘made our own’.  In the same way rich food can disagree with sensitive stomachs, screen experiences that are too rich or too abundant can overstimulate and disagree with sensitive brains and emotions.  Children do not have the capacity to process in a rational or logical manner screen experiences the way that adults can.  Their developing brains and emotional immaturity put them in a vulnerable position, where too much too soon can leave a lasting impression.

sad childThere has been a big interest in the past few years into how the brain is affected by the increasing screen time that many children are now experiencing. In fact, some argue much of the fear, anxiety and depression that is becoming so prevalent in today’s children is merely reflecting overstimulation and premature exposure to media influences. Some children in my clinic who suffer nightmares, phobias and anxiety often report being scared when watching a movie or a computer game.  Many other children do not understand where their fears and anxieties come from. They are possibly a build up of many different experiences that are poorly digested and appear as behavioural issues, emotional lability or sleep disorders. Parents always report bad behaviour or restlessness after screen time – yet often feel powerless to limit their children’s time.

We all know about the modern ‘explosion’ in children with Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorders (ADD/ADHD) and autism. Much research is being done and possible causes have been identified – most being related to environmental issues.  These include diverse things from food additives to vaccinations and media exposure. Other researchers are examining the way the brain is changing in children after being exposed to screens.  The instant gratification offered by computers and continuous snippets of information bombarding our brains from surfing the web to SMS messages and emails is literally changing the way the brain is connected and operates.

mediaThe virtual world is very different from the real world. Screens do not readily explore metaphor, abstract concepts or logical narrative. They do not encourage long attention spans or imagination.  Is it any wonder that so many of our kids can’t concentrate or sit still for very long – their brains are programmed from a young age to do the opposite. Screen experiences are always processed in the moment, with very little capacity for follow-up or consequences.  For example when a game allows you to shoot someone, you don’t have to deal with the consequences of that death.  Then if you happen to ‘die’, well you just start over. Susan Greenwood is a leading UK researcher in neuroscience and has observed a real shift in brain function.

"In the current generation if they've been exposed, as most western people have, to screen culture, they will have a shorter attention span and an emphasis of process over content. This means that these young people don't necessarily spend time evaluating the meaning of things and are perhaps rather impulsive and live in the moment, demanding a high degree of sensory stimulation, as opposed to the ability to reflect and think about abstract things."

girl natureIf you need some inspiration to create a new low screen time environment at home, you should check out Susan Maushart’s book, “The Winter of our Disconnect”. It provides a fascinating look behind the scenes at a single mother and her three teenager’s experience of going screen free. Like most teenagers, they were heavy users of online social networking, mobile phones, TV, digital music and computer games.  The book documents many of the issues and withdrawal symptoms that she and her kids had with letting go of their myriad devices.  But the interesting part is how they adapted and how they came to appreciate other things in life.  Her son took up saxophone and her daughters started cooking – and they spent lots of time together as a family.  Without screens to escape to, mealtimes were lingered over and became a time to connect as a family and dusty old board games were given a new lease of life.

A truly holistic view of a child’s health must incorporate their diet, their home life dynamic, screen time and their school and social life.  All these things will impact on a child’s physical and emotional health.  In my view, limiting screen exposure is a responsibility few parents are willing to embrace. Yet, a childhood rich in real life experiences with people, places and the natural world is a gift that will pay dividends.  So consider having a family media holiday – even one day a week - and enjoy the many rewards of connecting with each other rather than a screen.

You may also want to check out my video webinar on the effects of wifi and mobiles on health.

 

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!

 

Chocolate as an aphrodisiac

Chocolate as an aphrodisiac

Love is in the air

choc hrtTo the ancient Aztec's, chocolate was much more than a comfort food or a treat, it was considered a sacred food and a powerful aphrodisiac. The emperor Montezuma was thought to be particularly fond of chocolate and its ability to boost his prowess amongst the women in his harem. The Spanish went on to introduce the humble cacao bean to Europe, were it was then prized for adding stamina and strength to all activities, including those of pleasure.

Well fast forward to modern times, and we now have scientific ways of proving or otherwise these claims about chocolate. There are active chemicals in chocolate that could be responsible for its famous aphrodisiac qualities.  Chocolate contains tryptophan, which is a precursor to our happy hormone serotonin. Serotonin is also involved in sexual arousal and libido. Another chemical in chocolate is phenylethylamine, which is a stimulant similar to amphetamine. This chemical is released in the brain when people fall in love.  Anandamide, which translated means internal bliss, is another constituent found in chocolate. This happy little chemical interacts with the cannabinoid receptors and gives us a feeling of euphoria and bliss.

happy chocResearchers have looked into these chemicals in an attempt to find a link between them and chocolate's reputation as a love drug. The results have been disappointing and perhaps the active ingredients are in insufficient amounts to have a big impact. While research has not shown any strong physical effects on our arousal from chocolate, it is thought that it may be an emotional response, which can be harder to measure in standardised tests. Many people report feeling more happy and uplifted when they eat chocolate. However, the positive affect may be due to previous experiences and memories of eating chocolate that were associated with happy feelings.

If you are going to indulge your loved one in the gift of a little chocolate, then stick to good quality chocolate and preferably make it the dark variety. Quality chocolate is higher in real food ingredients, has less sugar and artificial flavours. Aside from the possible effects on libido and feelings mentioned above, dark chocolate contains many health benefits. It is high in antioxidants and polyphenols that have been shown to lower blood pressure and insulin levels and can help keep blood sugar levels stable. It has also been shown to have anti-ageing effects and improve circulation, memory and brain function.

The other benefit of rich, dark chocolate varieties is that most people do not overindulge compared to the sweeter milk chocolate types! Choose varieties that are at least 70% dark chocolate for the most active ingredients and also try to choose fairtrade and organic varieties to support cocoa farmers and be eco-friendly. If you would like a healthy, paleo chocolate recipe check out my Chocolate Walnut Brownies.

benchIn any case, finding a way to share and celebrate your love for someone, beyond food is also a good idea! Last year, I bought my partner an apple tree to plant as a special gift that keeps on giving! Massages, baths, roses or a romantic beach or nature walk can all be special ways to share this day of celebrating love.

Happy Valentines Day!

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!

 

 

Boost your brain power

Natural Ways to Boost Your Brain Power

Who doesn't want better memory, focus, concentration and mental performance? Whether you are a stay at home mum with little kids, a corporate executive, a student or a builder working on a complex building project - we all need our brain to be in top gear. Let's explore some natural ways to boost your brain power with herbs and nutrients.
bacopaOne of my favourite herbs that can help sharpen the mind and adapt to stress is Bacopa. Bacopa monnieri is a herb, which hails from the Indian Ayurvedic tradition, has been used for thousands of years to aid memory and learning. It is also a wonderful adaptogen, which essentially means it can help us adapt to stress by supporting adrenal and nerve health. This small creeper thrives in wet and marshy conditions and is found in many regions throughout the world, including Australia. I have some growing in my garden in a water pond and the small leaves and white flowers are very pleasant, though quite bitter to taste!

 

Modern research has revealed that Bacopa is indeed a valuable herb to improve cognition, mental performance and memory. There has been a large body of research including clinical trials that have been done on a specific Bacopa extract that have found it to be neuroprotective, antioxidant, anxiolytic and antiinflammatory - which basically means it can protect our brain cells, decrease inflammation and decrease anxiety. It has been shown to improve the speed at which we learn and process information as well as improve our short and long term memory. As Bacopa also helps us when we feel stressed and anxious, it makes it a valuable herb for modern times.

 

negative-thinking-patterns-fullIndeed, stress is a big impediment to mental performance and memory. When our brain is in a flight or fight response, we tend to access our primitive brain centres and act on impulse rather than being able to utilise our higher brain centres involved with reason, logic and even intuition. Stress makes us feel anxious and overwhelmed and will adversely affect our ability to think, remember and perform mental tasks. Our brain is really not designed to multitask the way modern life dictates. While we can certainly be engaged in many things at once, we tend to lack accuracy and focus and our performance declines. We really are far better to switch off our phone and email and remove ourselves from other distractions when we need to engage with some serious study, learning or mental work tasks.

 

Herbs and nutrients that can help us with stress will often indirectly improve our brain function and walnutsperformance. In addition to Bacopa, other herbs we often use to improve mental function include Gingko, Rhodiola, Gotu Kola and the Ginsengs. The B complex vitamins, magnesium and omega 3 fats (fish oils) are probably the most important nutrients to optimise memory, concentration and brain function.  Making sure you have regular meals and protein rich snacks will also ensure your blood sugar is stable and this will in turn enhance performance and mood. Nuts are a great option as a snack as they are rich in magnesium which has been shown to increase the cell connections in our brain. I love the way walnuts just look like little brains - a perfect example of the doctrine of signatures! Generally increasing fruit and vegetables will provide the antioxidants your brain needs for optimal function.

 

It is well known that when it comes to brain power if we "don't use it, we lose it." This motto is behind the push to exercise our brain as we get older, engaging it in specific tasks to improve mental performance and memory such as crosswords, puzzles and learning a new skill like an instrument or creative activity. Working with using all aspects of your brain, gives you a well rounded function that supports learning and cognition as you age.

 

timeout natureWorking with your stress levels and engaging in relaxing practices like breathing, yoga, sitting down with a cup of tea for a conscious break, walking in nature, playing with a pet, doing a craft project, playing an instrument or getting some sunshine are all important. Choose one that resonates with you and give yourself regular small "time outs" that will make a big difference to stress and performance!

 

Lastly, ensure that you get adequate sleep as being sleep deprived is a certain recipe for poor brain function! Research shows that learning is also consolidated at night when we sleep, so the old traditional saying that "the morning is always wiser than the evening" is true.

 

 

 

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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!
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