Epigenetics

Food Cravings and Instinctive Eating

Exploring the science behind food cravings...

Kale please, Mum!

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

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

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

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

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

food habits over time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buon appetito!

Natural Anti-Ageing Strategies

Natural Anti-Ageing Strategies

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hidden Benefits of Exercise

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

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

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

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

Eat Less, Live Longer

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

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

Supplements For Longevity

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

A Note About Choosing Supplements

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

 

 

 

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 Thyroid Support

Natural Thyroid Support

Understanding the body's master gland

thyroidThe health of your thyroid has a major impact on your overall health. When your thyroid levels are out of whack, then you will be you too. Having too much or too little thyroid hormone in your system will greatly influence everything from how you feel, your energy levels, your weight and sleep quality to your fertility and reproductive function and your moods. We need to have a good understanding of the thyroid as there is a rather large epidemic of thyroid disorders going on out there in the general population – often undiagnosed.

Located in the neck, just below the Adam’s apple, the thyroid gland is one of the largest endocrine glands in the body and has a major influence on almost every cell in your body. Most people are somewhat aware that the thyroid is responsible for regulating your metabolism and weight but are less aware of the essential role of the thyroid in fertility and pregnancy, its importance in children’s growth and development and nearly every other physiological process in your body.

endocrine-systemThe “endocrine system”, a more fancy name for the hormone system, is a complex interacting system of glands that produce various hormones. These include our reproductive glands that produce sex hormones like oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone, the adrenal glands which help manage our response to stress and the pancreas which produces the sugar regulating hormone, insulin. The role of hormones in general, is to act like messengers and interact with cells in the body and control what the cell does. When there is a gland in the system not working well, it tends to influence all the other endocrine glands and will affect the output of other hormones and give rise to seemingly unrelated disorders.

Under the influence of the pituitary (brain) hormone TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) the thyroid gland produces three different thyroid hormones, known as T2, T3 and T4. Little is understood about the role of T2, but researchers are busy trying to learn more about it. Most of the hormone produced by your thyroid is the inactive form, T4. This then gets converted into T3 in the liver by a special enzyme or catalyst. So generally things go wrong when your thyroid either makes too much or too little thyroid hormone or your enzymes are insufficient or overactive and your conversion of T4 to the active T3 is affected.

tiredWhile overactive thyroid function is not uncommon, occurring in around 8% of women and 1% of men at some point in their lives, underactive thyroid disorders are more common. It is estimated that anywhere between 10-20% of the general population have some form of underactive thyroid disease.

An important thing to note is that the thyroid can swing back and forth in the early stages of thyroid disease, going from hyperactive to underactive and back again. Once the thyroid is exhausted from overactivity, often underactivity or hypothyroidism is the end result.

Let’s have a look at some of the widespread symptoms that can arise from thyroid dysfunction:

Symptoms of Overactive Thyroid

  • Feeling anxious, restless, nervous or irritable
  • Sleeping poorly, insomnia (tired, but wired feeling)
  • Difficulty concentrating, shakey, tremors in muscles
  • Sweating easily or profusely, feeling hot
  • Frequent and loose bowel movements
  • Irregular menstrual periods, fertility issues, amenorrhoea
  • Weight loss (or sometimes can be weight gain)
  • Cardiac issues, such as rapid or erratic heartbeat
  • Protruding eyes (know as exophthalmos in Graves disease)

Thyroid Check-page-001

Symptoms of Underactive Thyroid

  • Fatigue, poor energy, lethargy
  • Depression, lack of motivation
  • Heavy or foggy feeling in head
  • Falling asleep easily, sleeping excessively
  • Weight issues - easy weight gain or difficulty losing weight
  • Rough, dry or scaly skin
  • Dry, coarse hair and hair loss
  • Sensitivity to cold – feeling cold all the time or lack of sweating even with exercise. Low basal temperature.
So What Makes the Thyroid Fail to Work Properly?

tired 2Nutritional deficiencies (especially iodine), food intolerance and goitregens in food, exposure to chemicals in the environment (such as bromine) and stress and adrenal dysfunction are the biggest factors in causing thyroid disorders. Genetic components are also common, especially with autoimmune thyroid disorders, but it is normally the combination of genes plus environmental impacts that cause these genes to be switched on and then play a role.

As each person is individual, it is important to have a full assessment of current health issues and your previous medical history to determine the possible causes. Tests that we can do to check your thyroid function include full thyroid panel (not just TSH), iodine levels (load test), basal temperature and other nutritional tests. Checking adrenal and reproductive function may also be relevant.

What is the best Treatment for Thyroid Disorders?

Effective treatment of thyroid disorders really needs to factor in the underlying causes. Holistic

Withania - a thyroid and adrenal herb

Withania - a thyroid and adrenal herb

treatments avoid just treating the thyroid gland and instead aim to remove the underlying triggers as well. When we address the true cause and support better nutrition, stress management and remove other factors we can get lasting results. There are also many great herbs that can be used that specifically work to improve thyroid gland function or enzyme activity and receptors.

Conventional medical management involves the drug thyroxine, which is a synthetic analogue of T4. While some people experience benefits from taking T4, a large percentage of people do not respond. Clearly if there is a problem with conversion of T4 to the active T3, it will not be addressed by supplying the body with more T4. Overactive thyroid treatments include drugs that bind to the enzyme to block the conversion of T4 to T3.

If you think you may be suffering from a thyroid issue, then please make an appointment today for a full holistic assessment. Getting your thyroid firing again can make all the difference in the world!

 

 

alcohol and cancer risk

Alcohol and Cancer Risk

Sit Up and Sober Up...

drinkingIf you need a good reason to quit or cut back on alcohol this new year, then maybe the new WHO (world health organisation) report on cancer will deliver some sobering facts. When it comes to alcohol and cancer risk, their statement is simple: "no amount of alcohol is safe."1

It is interesting how the idea that wine is good for us, gained popularity with the general public, when links were found between heart disease and red wine consumption. The findings that the French had lower heart disease were causally linked to light, regular alcohol intake (red wine especially). Seems like we were keen to have a reason to drink more wine: "It is good for our heart! Cheers!"

alcohol cancerHowever, alcohol was declared a carcinogen back in 1988, for its causal link to a host of cancers. More and more research over the past couple of decades has shown more links and stronger evidence for alcohol and cancer risk. The risk is dose-dependent, meaning the more alcoholic drinks you consume, the greater the risk of cancer. But even light drinking, which many consider safe, was directly associated with more than 5000 breast cancer deaths worldwide last year.

Alcoholic beverages can contain at least 15 carcinogenic compounds, including acetaldehyde, acrylamide, aflatoxins, arsenic, benzene, cadmium, ethanol, ethyl carbamate, formaldehyde, and lead. Several different causative pathways are implicated in alcohol-related cancer. Acetaldehyde has a direct toxic affect on many cells and alcohol can affect folate metabolism, change our DNA methylation and cause free radical damage.

less alcohol low riskResearchers are absolutely certain about the link between alcohol and specific cancers - especially those of the breast, mouth, oesophagus, liver, bowel and pancreas. Links have also been made between alcohol consumption and leukaemia, multiple myeloma, and cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina and skin.

So when it comes to preventing cancers, once again, we have personal actions and habits that we can change to lower our risk. While we can't change our genetic inheritance, we can freely choose to avoid or limit alcohol as a positive lifestyle habit to lower our cancer risk.

If you would like help with reducing your alcohol intake or support to do a liver detox, please book in for a consult! Or you can check out my online detox programme here.

 

 

References:

Rehm J, Shield K. Alcohol consumption. In: Stewart BW, Wild CB, eds. World Cancer Report 2014. Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer; 2014.

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Alzheimer’s Disease Natural Treatment

Alzheimer's Disease Natural Treatment

Dementia is a form of brain deterioration that causes memory loss, disorientation and confusion and eventually has a negative impact on an individual’s ability to carry out normal activities.  Individuals with dementia also display behavioural changes and emotional symptoms. 

Approximately 50-80% of dementia cases are forgetfulconsidered to be Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), and together they account for the almost 300,000 individuals living with it in Australia. The earliest warning sign to look out for is changes to memory, particularly short term memory.

Symptoms of AD usually develop slowly and worsen over time. Some individuals can get early onset dementia – which starts in the 40s and 50s, but most cases occur in adults over 65 years old.  By 85 years, around 20-50% of people suffer from AD and dementia. Dementia is not a normal sign of ageing, and while the causes are not well understood, it is thought to be linked to genetic changes and lifestyle factors.  A history of head trauma and poor heart and vascular health, including diabetes, are also risk factors for developing brain disorders.  Dementia symptoms occur when parts of the brain start to starve and they shrink or die. The Ohio State University developed a simple test to measure thinking abilities, called SAGE, which can detect early signs of memory loss or a decline in cognitive capacity. This self administered test is available on their website here.

There are no cures for AD and dementia, but some medications exist for various aspects of the disease, such as treating the sleep, mood or behavioural changes. By far the best aim is in prevention. While you cannot do a lot to change your genes, we know that detrimental genetic changes may be more common with poor lifestyle brainpuzzlechoices. A healthy lifestyle that is good for the whole body will potentially reduce your risk of developing dementia or may delay the onset of dementia symptoms.  Smoking and high alcohol consumption have been linked to AD.

The old adage, “if you don’t use it, you lose it” is very relevant for the brain.  It is recommended that you keep your brain active and give it a daily workout, much as we would exercise our body. Brain workouts can help to build brain cells and neural connections between the cells, which in turn keeps your brain and mind sharp and efficient.  Cross words, Sudoku and puzzles are all examples of brain gym.

Nutrients that have been shown to be useful in preventing or treating dementia include vitamin E, vitamin C, CoQ10, coconut oil and omega 3 fish oils.  Having around 2 tablespoons of coconut oil a day was shown to have a favourable impact on prevention and early treatment of AD and dementia.

Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba

Herbs such as Gingko have been shown to be a beneficial treatment, but efficacy depends on starting the treatment early, and not waiting until symptoms are severe. Some of the studies with Gingko failed to find positive results, however they did not start early enough. Heavy metals that affect nervous tissue, such as lead, aluminium and mercury may have a negative impact on brain function and should be avoided.  In relation to aluminium, the jury is still out, but I normally encourage people to minimise exposure to aluminium by avoiding aluminium cooking utensils and deodorants.

In conclusion, it is a good idea to adopt healthy diet and lifestyle choices and keep your body and brain active.  Be on the lookout for early changes with memory and forgetfulness in yourself or your loved ones, and consider natural remedies if warranted.

For more information visit the Alzheimer’s Australia website

 

Obesity

Obesity - is it a disease or a lifestyle issue?

There has been much debate and controversy lately since the American Medical Association reclassified obesity as a disease, rather than a lifestyle. The obesity disease classification came about in July this year. Obesity is a growing problem worldwide and affects a third of the US nation and is estimated to cost the US healthcare system $190 billion annually and the costs are rising. More and more children and young adults are overweight or obese and the resultant diseases of heart disease, diabetes and cancer are rising in direct proportion.

Clearly, obesity is not something you can catch or contract like a regular disease, but it is the result of a lifestyle imbalance. Obesity certainly gives rise to a range of diseases, just as smoking gives rise to lung cancer and heart disease. But what they both have in common is the lifestyle choice factor. There are genetic factors, but really it is epigenetics rather than straight genetics - in other words it is the result of genes interacting with poor lifestyle choices that 'switch' on obesity genes.

Food is one of the few things many people freely choose each day, but some argue that the culture has become so entrenched with marketing of high sugar and junk foods and a focus on media use and lack of exercise that people no longer can 'choose' what they consume or how to live their life. Some in the medical profession argue the obesity disease classification will increase funding for research. Others suggest that it will make it easier for paediatricians to approach parents in terms of treating a disease rather than telling them their child eats too much or fails to exercise enough. But is this just avoiding the cold hard facts?

Please watch the interesting video below where a range of experts discuss this widespread social and health problem and look at ways of dealing with it.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Preventative Health – A New Era

So you thought that getting your regular checkups at the doctor would keep you healthy, right?...
...Well new research has found that routine medical health check-ups have no effect on mortality rates.
In a review of 14 randomized trials conducted between 1963 and 1999, researchers evaluated the effect of annual health checkups on morbidity and mortality. A general health check was defined as "a visit dedicated solely to preventive counseling and screening tests," and excluded visits required for the management of chronic conditions or acute care visits.They found no benefit on the long term mortality of patients despite the fact that the checks did increase the number of new diagnoses of hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes mellitus during the health checks (and probably increased the number of drug prescriptions to boot!). Which just goes to show that real preventative medicine goes above and beyond a standard medical checkup at the GP.
 
As a holistic practitioner, it wasn't too surprising to me that these kind of checkups wouldn't confer many benefits. With little understanding of the underlying cause of disease and little training in supporting patients to make healthy diet and lifestyle changes, doctors are really not well placed to help prevent disease.

 

Real preventative health comes from paying attention to what is out of balance in all spheres of life, not just the physical body ailments.  I love doing a wellness checkup and audit with my patients to continually assess what needs to change to ensure optimal health.  Sometimes it is your diet that is creating havoc, sometimes it is stress and emotions that are lowering your health. It can even be your quality of sleep or regularity of exercise that needs to change.

 

When we work out a individualised plan for restoring and rebalancing your health to a new level, we are also working to keep you well and prevent chronic disease. It can be that simple! This kind of approach also works for overcoming many genetic conditions as the new science of epigenetics shows that it is our interaction with our environment that 'switches' our genes on or off.  We can no longer blame our genetic blueprint per se, but we now have to take personal responsibility for how we live our life and in turn understand that in many cases it is our choices that will determine what diseases we end up with.

 

Let's hope they do some research one day to look at how this kind of preventative healthcare program can improve the endgame!
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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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