Hormones

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Natural Menopause Solutions

Natural Menopause Solutions

Transitioning Naturally Through Menopause

The term ‘menopause’ generally relates to the years before the final menstrual period and those years soon after. In fact, the years leading up to the menopause are more accurately coined the ‘peri-menopause’. A woman is considered to be truly menopausal when she has failed to have a period for over twelve months.   The journey to menopause may take many years and health needs vary over this time. This transitional time is often marked by changes in menstrual cycle, both in length and blood flow, as well as a host of other hormone related symptoms. These may include hot flushes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, mood change and memory loss.

 

Many things influence a woman's journey through menopause.

Many things influence a woman's journey through menopause.

I find that many things will influence a woman’s experience of the peri-menopause and beyond.  Studies show that women’s emotional health, social situation and stress levels will influence her experience of menopause. Thus it is not just all about hormones!

A woman’s diet and lifestyle, including exercise and stress levels, can play an important part in this phase.  Natural therapists view the menopause as a natural transition and seek to support women through this period, providing both symptom relief and preventative health care advice.

 

Hormone replacement therapy implies that menopause is a deficiency syndrome rather than a natural process.  For most women, HRT is not necessary for a healthy menopause experience, and its use should be carefully considered as it is not without inherent risks. Most people are now aware of the longitudinal studies (such as the nurses health study) and their findings which have narrowed the therapeutic use of HRT to short term treatment of severe flushing. While some authorities still recommend HRT to prevent osteoporosis most now believe the risks are outweighed by any possible benefit from a reduction in fractures.  Other early cited benefits of HRT on diseases such as heart disease and mood/memory have now also been discounted by substantial research.

 

Black Cohosh can help with menopause.

Black Cohosh can help with menopause.

Naturopaths and herbalists apply a range of strategies for treating menopausal women and they offer an alternative to HRT for most women.  Herbs are used to address symptoms of low oestrogen and progesterone during the peri-menopausal years, helping to balance hormone problems.  They can be very effective in treating heavy periods, hot flushes and erratic cycles.

There are other herbs that can be used to improve memory, mood and sleep problems.  The herb Black Cohosh is particularly useful for menopausal hot flushes, but I find it works best when combined with other herbs to treat each individual.

 

A personalised approach will factor in each woman’s individual situation, including her diet and lifestyle, and how it may be impacting on her menopausal complaints.  A treatment plan may include lifestyle changes such as increased exercise. Some studies have shown that women who exercise regularly experience less severe flushes than sedentary women. Exercise is also important for maintaining good bone density which starts to decline in midlife. Ensuring you have good adrenal function and managing your stress is also important, as your adrenals are responsible for picking up the slack hormonally, once your ovaries wind down. Click here to learn more about your adrenals.

 

Flaxseed can help modulate oestrogen.

Flaxseed can help modulate oestrogen.

Dietary changes can also be helpful. Foods such as legumes, sprouts, nuts and seeds can be helpful in offsetting declining oestrogen levels. These foods contain substances known as ‘selective oestrogen receptor modulators’ or more simply SERMs. They appear to interact with oestrogen receptors and can stimulate an oestrogen-like action – which can make up for declining ovarian oestrogen production. Food sources are far safer than using concentrated isoflavone extracts from soy (such as tablets and powders), as these have not stood the test of time. Indeed, soy should only be consumed in a traditional fermented ways (such as tempeh & miso) as it is difficult to digest and can inhibit thyroid function.

 

Self help measures for hot flushes might include avoiding spicy and hot foods and drinks, stimulants such as coffee, tea and soft drinks, and alcohol which is known to increase heat and sweating.  Other tips include regular exercise, dealing with stress and anxiety and dressing in layers to enable easy undressing when hot. Lastly, it is good to try and embrace the journey to menopause rather than fight it. Women who seem to enjoy the time that the menopause brings for reflection and an honouring of wisdom, seem to have less symptoms and more enjoyment.  The good thing to know that after the transition happens, many symptoms settle as your body adapts to the new post menopausal state.

 

 

natural treatment of acne

Natural Treatment of Acne

pimplNearly everyone would have experienced acne at some point in their lives – with more than 85% of Australians experiencing some form of acne between the ages of 13-25 years. The typical spots, known as pimples and black heads, can be mild and infrequent or severe and prolonged, bringing both physical and emotional pain and discomfort. Acne vulgaris is the most common form of acne, but there are other types such as acne rosacea which is more common in adult women.

The teenage years are, of course, when we are most prone to this skin affliction and nothing brings dread into the heart of the average teenager more than a bad case of acne. Puberty heralds an activation of reproductive hormones and this increases the likelihood of acne.

Causes of Acne

Acne is caused by androgens (such as testosterone) stimulating the sebaceous glands in the skin of the face, neck and upper body. This stimulation causes an increase in the size of the glands and also an overproduction of sebum. Too much sebum can cause a blockage which results in the small fluid filled spots known as pimples. Bacteria and white blood cells get trapped in the pimples and multiply quickly causing swelling, redness and discomfort. Blackheads are also caused by too much sebum but the dark appearance is due to the presence of the pigment melanin.

sadteengirl

Acne can have a big impact on self esteem

Stress is also a common trigger for acne and while this has always been common knowledge to acne sufferers, only recently have studies been done to prove the impact of stress on acne. Exam stress was found in one study to definitely exacerbate acne in students. Stress is thought to worsen acne due to increased hormones produced by the adrenal glands and also by slowing down healing. Self esteem issues are common in most teenagers, but particularly those with acne. Studies have shown that teenagers with acne experience low self esteem, social isolation and are more prone to depression and anxiety. So it is essential that treatment for acne is holistic and takes into account the psychological elements as well as the physical.

The good news is that there is a lot that can be done to treat acne. Firstly, let's look at the conventional medical treatments and some of the problems with them. Standard medical treatment normally involves long term antibiotics which are aimed at decreasing the infection in the skin. The problem with antibiotics is the destruction of healthy bacteria in other areas of the body, such as the gut. This seems counterintuitive when a healthy gut and bowel function are essential in clearing body wastes including excess hormones as well as supporting optimal immune function. Retinoids (such as roaccutane) are another medical treatment derived from synthetic vitamin A which are used in bad cases of acne. These are powerful drugs with many serious side effects and I believe they are best avoided. There are also topical types of retinoid creams that are less harmful that the oral dose. Other treatments such as the contraceptive pill can be used in women to help balance the hormones that cause acne - however from a holistic perspective this is not really treating the underlying cause.  Natural approaches always aim to determine and treat what is contributing to the complaint.

Natural Treatment of Acne

A diet low in sugar and rich in veggies is essential in treating acne.

A diet low in sugar and rich in veggies is essential in treating acne.

Natural approaches to acne tend to focus on hormone balance, a nutrient dense & low sugar diet, healthy bowel function and stress management. Nutrients that are essential for healthy skin include vitamin A, E and C and the mineral zinc. When these nutrients are deficient, the skin is more likely to be unhealthy and will also scar more readily. Scarring in cystic acne always improves when the right nutrients are supplied.

A healthy diet is absolutely essential in treating acne, but not always easy for the average teenager to adhere to. Sugar is a major culprit in acne as it causes a surge in insulin which in turn stimulates an increased production of androgens which go on to trigger acne flare-ups. So avoidance of sugar and refined carbohydrates such as white flour products like breads, cereals and biscuits will indirectly decrease acne. A good intake of fibre from vegetables, nuts & seeds will ensure excess hormones are removed through the bowel, decreasing the stimulus on acne. Probiotic supplements and fermented foods such as yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi or kefir can also be useful as they help to promote good gut health, detoxification and robust immunity.

Burdock is a herb that helps to purify the skin from the inside out

Burdock is a herb that helps to purify the skin from the inside out

Herbal medicine provides many options for acne with hormone balancing herbs, liver and bowel herbs, immune and general ‘skin cleansing’ herbs. Once again, when you have a whole health assessment, we can detect what the underlying trigger for the acne is and then an individual herbal formula can be designed for each case and often gives great results.

Stress management is essential in acne treatments and should include yoga, meditation, massage, exercise and a balance should be sort between work, study and rest. If stress is a big trigger, herbs and flower essences can also help.

Natural Topical Treatments

It is normally best to not squeeze pimples and avoid touching your skin too much as your hands carry bacteria, which can make pimples worse. While, most of the problems with acne come from the inside out as detailed above, there are also some good natural remedies that you can apply to blemishes and pimples to promote healing and reduce inflammation on the surface. Apple cider

Honey can be used to soothe and heal the skin

Honey can be used to soothe and heal the skin

vinegar diluted 50:50 with water makes an effective treatment for spots as does lavender oil, teatree oil or raw honey applied to individual pimples. Be sure to find a good natural cleanser, use a microfibre cloth, carry out gentle exfoliation regularly and using a light lotion based moisturiser is normally necessary. Stripping too much oil from the skin can create rebound overproduction of sebum which may aggravate skin further.  Rosehip or argan oil are very good for promoting healing after a lesion has healed and can reduce scarring.

 

Patience is also necessary as all treatments for acne, whether they be natural or drug based, can take at least six weeks to have any noticeable impact, as the skin takes some time to respond.

 

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!

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!

 

 

Managing Stress

Managing Stress

givingMany of you know I have been researching the heart and its role in our health and wellbeing for some time. I am fascinated with all the new research that shows that the heart is much more complex that a simple pump, instead being a highly developed organ of perception and insight. In many studies, the heart responds before the brain to stressful events and can even predict future events and stresses before they happen (!)
Along the way, some of you have learned a technique for stress management from me called heart breathing which can help shift you into a state of peace and calm. I am excited to now offer a tool and device which gives additional insight and feedback on how well you are managing stress and the impact your state of mind is having on your health. These range of important and simple tools and practices can help manage your stress and teach you how to get out of mental and emotional chaos and into peace and balance!

 

Using this cutting edge emwave pro device from HeartMath we can assess how stress is impacting on you and teach you how to get yourself into a healthy mind and body. When you are operating from a place of inner balance, the benefits are widespread including improved moods, balanced hormones, anti-ageing effects, better digestion and robust immunity.
HRVUsing the HeartMath tools and technology gives us important bio-feedback which can help to change our nervous system’s response to stress, and in turn achieve new levels of health and wellbeing.  The device displays heart rate variability which gives you accurate feedback on what your internal state of being is, displaying it in wave patterns. (see picture right)

 

When we experience stressful or negative emotions such as tension, anxiety, irritation, frustration and anger our heart rhythm pattern becomes irregular and incoherent, which negatively affects many aspects of health from digestion to immunity and hormones. It can also negatively impact on brain function, performance and our moods and sense of well-being.  In contrast when we experience positive emotions such as love, gratitude, appreciation, compassion and joy our heart, brain and respiratory system experience optimal function and promotes health and wellbeing throughout the body.

 

vitalityIf you would like to learn some simple stress management methods to shift your inner state out of busyness, stress and chaos into inner peace, calm and effectiveness, then make an appointment for a stress busting session.  Get accurate feedback with a scientific tool and learn to manage anxiety, depression, anger and watch how your health and happiness improves!

Feminine Hygiene

Feminine Hygiene Products & Your Health

tamponsWe are all aware of the widespread use of personal care products that many women and some men use daily. These range from shampoo, conditioner and other hair styling products to facial and body washes, moisturisers, makeup and deodorants. In addition, there are, of course, the other much more personal, personal care products that women use. These are things like tampons, pads, vaginal douches and feminine wipes. There has been growing concern in recent years about the chemicals used in these products and their potential negative impact on women’s health.

As a naturopath who specializes in women’s health, I am regularly advising women about the potential for everyday household products to contain hidden chemicals that can negatively affect their reproductive health, hormones and fertility. Many of the feminine hygiene products used by women are also sources of such hidden chemicals. The problem is that many of these products get up close and personal with the highly sensitive and highly absorptive female genitalia. This delicate area is filled with an enormous array of blood and lymphatic vessels, which means chemicals absorbed "down there" go straight into your circulatory system.

In fact, because of this highly absorptive nature of the vaginal wall, researchers are constantly researching new vaginal pessaries and creams as novel modes of drug delivery. Because of the many arteries, blood vessels and lymphatic vessels abundant in the walls of the vagina, drugs absorbed from the vagina do not undergo first-pass metabolism (that occurs with oral tablets in the digestive system) because blood leaving the vagina enters straight into circulatory system via a rich venous route. absorption

So, while these facts make it easy for drug companies to exploit the vagina as a mode of drug delivery for prescribed drugs, women are essentially getting a dose of unwanted and potentially harmful chemicals whenever they use many of the mainstream feminine hygiene products. These products sit against or near to the extremely permeable mucous membranes in the vulvar and vaginal area that readily absorb whatever chemicals are found in the products women use.

There has been a concerted push in recent years amongst women’s health groups for more research into the health effects of these chemical exposures on women's health, given the widespread use of these products. Many of the products do not list fragrances or the chemicals found in them (as government guidelines do not require it), so women are further left in the dark about potential ill effects.

Here is a list of the common chemicals found in different feminine hygiene products and the potential health impacts related to them:

Tampons
  • Possible Hazardous Ingredients: Dioxins and furans (from the chlorine bleaching process), pesticide residues (non-organic cotton/rayon), and unknown fragrance chemicals.
  • Health Concerns: Cancer, reproductive harm, endocrine disruption (can lead to heavier periods and reproductive disorders), and allergic rash
 Pads
  • Possible Hazardous Ingredients: Dioxins and furans, pesticide residues, unknown fragrance chemicals, and adhesive chemicals such as methyldibromo glutaronitrile
  • Health Concerns: Cancer, reproductive harm, infertility, endocrine disruption, and allergic rash
Feminine Wipes
  • Possible Hazardous Ingredients: Methylchloroisothiazolinone, methylisothiazolinone, parabens, quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, and many unknown fragrance chemicals.
  • Health Concerns: Cancer, endocrine disruption, skin allergens allergic rash
Feminine Wash

Many feminine washes contain a host of chemicals including fragrances and toxic preservatives like parabens, that are known to play havoc with your hormones.

  • Possible Hazardous Ingredients: Unknown fragrance chemicals, parabens, methylchloroisothiazolinone, methylisothiazolinone, DMDM hydantoin, D&C Red #33, Ext. D&C Violet #2, and FD&C Yellow #5
  • Health Concerns: Hormone disruption and reproductive issues, allergic rash, and asthma

 

 

It is good news to know that one solution to this complex problem is rather easy, as there are some great environmentally savvy companies creating alternatives to the mainstream products. Organic tampons and pads are now more widely available and offer a healthy alternative for both women and the environment. Pads-1Moreover, silicon menstrual cups are also becoming more popular and are a safe alternative to tampons. Reusable cloth pads are also available and have been popular with some women for years. The design and function of these have come a long way since the old days of our grandmothers!

In terms of wipes and washes, there are eco-friendly wipes that can be used (even some for babies are appropriate). However, normal hygiene really should suffice and women should not feel the need to use chemical fragrances in their delicate genital area.

So wise up women folk and start taking care of yourself by making smart and healthy choices in this very important area!

 

Here are some links to companies providing more information or healthy and eco-friendly alternatives:

 

 

Maya Abdominal Therapy

 

I am very pleased to have my wonderful friend and colleague, Andrea Lopez, do a guest blog post for me this month.

Andrea has been a body worker for more than 15 years and specialises in the Arvigo technique that originates from the ancient Maya Culture of Central America. Both women and men can benefit from this fantastic therapy that realigns the abdomen and reproductive organs.

 

 

The Arvigo Techniques Of Maya Abdominal Therapy

by Andrea Lopez

 

How many of us women are celebrated when we first menstruate? Instead, for most of us, that first flow of blood is accompanied by feelings of fear and shame which can last a lifetime. The result is a disconnection from our feminine flow that can have a disastrous consequence for our overall health and wellbeing.  It is little wonder that female reproductive issues, such as painful periods and difficulties conceiving, are so common.

Sadly, most women regard menstruation as an inconvenience, and dread 'that time of the month'. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The problems we have with our reproductive organs are our body’s way of telling us that we need to give more attention to this area. When we begin to regard our uterus as a sacred organ, the centre of our great female creative force, we can look forward to that time of the month when it sheds and then renews itself. When we are in harmony with the rhythms of our menstrual cycles, we are in harmony with Mother Earth.

A technique that originates from the Maya Culture of Central America is changing women’s lives in ways they never believed possible. The Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Therapy are gaining great interest across the USA, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Medical practitioners and IVF clinics are also taking notice. These techniques were founded by Dr Rosita Arvigo who was an apprentice to one of the last living Maya Shamans in Central America. “If a woman’s uterus is out of balance, so is she,” said the Shaman Don Elijio Panti. He believed that the uterus of a woman is her centre, and so when there were problems with the uterus a woman could not enjoy good health and wellbeing. Midwives and healers of Central America agree that most female troubles are caused by what they call ‘the wandering womb’.

Working with Don Elijio, Dr Arvigo realised that there was an alternative to surgery for problems of the reproductive and digestive systems. It seemed to her that many symptoms were due to a displaced uterus. This is a simple and often ignored concept. Dr Arvigo believes that 70% of women will have a displaced uterus at some point in their lives.

A displaced uterus is often the cause of many female complaints, including problems most of us have come to consider as ‘just one of those things’. Everything from PMS, painful periods and vaginal infections to endometriosis, infertility and menopausal issues can result from a displaced uterus. A uterus that is out of its correct position can also impinge on organs such as the colon, bladder and ovaries. It can also affect the nerves and blood vessels that supply these organs, causing discomfort in the area around the lower spine and lead to symptoms such as lower back pain, constipation, bladder infections and varicose veins. When the uterus is shifted back into its correct position, the pelvic area and the organs surrounding it fall naturally into balance. Toxins that have accumulated are released, and hormones function in a healthy way. Not only are the reproductive organs now in good health, but so is the rest of the body. All this is achieved through the Maya Abdominal Massage, known simply as ‘la sobada’. The massage, which is simple and non-invasive, also has a self care practice addressing the position and health of the pelvic and abdominal organs.

I studied with Dr Arvigo in Belize and have been a practitioner and teacher of the technique in Australia for the past six years. Dr Arvigo developed an easy version of the massage that people could learn to use on themselves, known as Self Care Massage. By learning this technique one can continue their own healing treatments at home. I find that performing the Self Care Massage regularly can help bring the uterus into alignment. It also allows the flow of healthy blood, lymph, nerves and chi (life energy) into the abdomen, so that the body then has a base from which to heal itself.

Although the Self Care treatment attracts many women it is not only for them. Men can also learn the massage to both treat and prevent a congested or swollen prostate and maintain proper blood supply and fluid drainage, preventing swelling and inflammation.

The next Self Care Course in Maya Abdominal Therapy will be run on the Sunshine Coast in late September.  Please click here to download a flyer for the course

Or visit Andrea’s website for more info www.mayanhealing.com.au

 

 

Environmental Chemicals in Hiding

 Chemicals in Hiding

So many environmental chemicals we are exposed to every day have never been tested for safety.

There is a bizarre law that allows things to be released under the guise of assumed safety.  So unless it can be proven unsafe, it is permitted to be used in industry with little testing.  Of course, this essentially means that the safety tests are conducted out in the open with us members of the public as the guinea pigs.  Once a chemical appears to be linked to a disorder, side effect or overt problem, it then gets banned from the market. This often takes years before it is proven to be dangerous or potentially risky - so in the mean time exposure continues to happen.  A good example of this is the plastic BPA (see my blog on BPA) and many developing countries continue to be the dumping ground for chemicals that have already been banned in the west.

The best way to deal with this issue is to be educated, get savvy and vote with your dollar by buying environmentally sound products and support the industries who do care!

While we can't avoid much of the pollution that is already there in our air and water, remember your home should be a sanctuary! Don't bring unsafe and potentially dangerous chemicals into your home.  Make informed choices - it is that simple.

There are many nasty chemicals found in everyday household products that have be shown to affect your hormones, brain function and can contribute to cancer.  They are found in so many things - from the obvious ones found in cleaning products, insect sprays and air fresheners to the less obvious ones in hair products, cosmetics and regular sunscreens. Try to buy organic food to avoid the hidden pesticides and herbicides used in conventional agriculture. Even many processed and packaged foods house synthetic chemicals, colours and preservatives that have been linked to a range of disorders.

So get savvy, be mindful and protect you and your family's health by making good choices!

 

Watch this great little clip with interviews by experts including some of the good folk at the Environmental Working Group.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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