Liver function

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.

 

 

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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Sugar

 

Getting the Scoop on Sugar

I don't advocate the same diet for everyone and I prefer to personalise things for each person. But when it comes to sugar, the reality is that we really all do better without it.

Sugar is linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, fatigue, headaches, tooth decay, cancer and it also promotes premature ageing. It is a highly addictive food, that some argue is more difficult to quit than many street drugs. According to the latest statistics, sugar consumption in Australia is around 42 kgs per person per annum. The problem is that sugar is in just about every processed food today...from tomato sauce, breakfast cereals, savoury crackers and breads to yoghurts, dips, tinned foods and the obvious lollies and sweets.

In recent years with the push towards low fat products, we have seen a big rise in the amount of sugar going into processed low fat foods. When food manufacturers remove the fat from a product to make it 'low-fat' they replace it with sugar! 

Sugar is used to make up for the loss of taste, because much of the flavour in our foods comes with the fat. Just think about the taste difference between full cream and skim milk. Sugar is also used in products as a natural preservative - when the sugar level is high enough bacteria can't survive....which makes you wonder why we think we can survive with a high sugar diet!
Why Aren't Artificial Sweeteners Recommended?

Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (nutrasweet) and sucralose (Splenda) are not a safe option in any way. These processed food additives have been linked to cancer, migraine, obesity, high cholesterol and a range of brain issues - including memory loss, seizures and cancer.  What is probably most absurd is that the artificial sweeteners can even contribute to weight gain and increased sugar cravings. Aspartame failed to get FDA approval for 20 years, before it was finally approved in what appeared to be political bargaining rather than assured safety.

 What is wrong with fructose?... Isn't it just fruit sugar? 

There has been so much research into the damaging effects of sugar and processed sweet foods on our health. In particular a large body of evidence is mounting regarding consumption of high fructose corn syrup. This sweetener is used in many commercial goods that are sweetened, including cakes, biscuits, soft drinks and lollies. While fructose does not raise your blood sugar level directly the way that glucose does, it creates a whole series of other stresses that we can ill afford. The major problem with fructose is the effect that it has on the liver and is linked to many diseases including fatty liver and hyperlipidemia as well as obesity and cardiovascular disease.  Most forms of fructose also have a glucose molecule with it, so you tend to get both sugars operating in different ways in the body - making it double trouble.

Humans never evolved in an orchard with fruits all year round - so our modern ability to eat abundant amounts of fruit, regardless of the season, is a big unknown experiment. This is aside from the other issue of the enormous food miles in many cases that the imported or interstate fruit travels to get to our fruit bowl!  If you are going to eat fructose - you really are best to get it from local in-season fruit as the fibre it contains helps slow down the sugar surge. But remember you should really be limiting your fruit intake as well as it is still high sugar - so just stick to a couple of pieces a day of seasonal fruits. This is of course, as opposed to vegetables - where there is no limit!

What about the 'natural' sweeteners?

The judicious and occasional use of natural unrefined sugars such as rapadura sugar or coconut sugar can be an option when you need to bake or prepare traditional items. These work well in cooking as a substitute for regular sugar, though they will impart more flavour and colour to the recipes. Honey and maple syrup are also good natural sweeteners but they are still very sweet and should be used very sparingly.

Honey

Honey has a host of medicinal benefits - especially when in the raw and unheated form. Although honey is around 50% fructose it is a natural sweetener that has been prized for centuries. It is important to note that cooking with honey destroys some of these enzymes. Medicinal honey such as Manuka (from NZ) and Jelly Bush (from Australia) have high amounts of active constituents with antibiotic, anti-fungal and antibacterial properties. It can be used externally for wounds as well as internally for sore throats, mouth ulcers and coughs. (I sell the Australian Jelly Bush honey in my clinic.)

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is a traditional sweetener that has the characteristic earthy and caramel flavour. It is naturally quite high in a range of minerals - particularly manganese and zinc - that are important nutrients for a range of body functions. The syrup is a clear sap when tapped from the Maple tree and is then boiled to evaporate off the water and what is left is the golden brown syrup that is around 60% sugar.

Rapadura & Molasses

Evaporated cane juice is an unrefined sugar, also known as rapadura sugar or jaggery (which can sometimes come from palm sugar/dates).  As there is no refining and minimal processing, rapadura and jaggery still contain many of the natural minerals.  Do not confuse rapadura with brown sugar - as brown sugar is just refined sugar with some molasses added for colour and flavour.  Molasses is the left over by product of cane sugar or beet sugar refining. It is the mineral rich dark sticky byproduct and can be used sparingly as it is a rich source of minerals including iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium. It has traditionally been used as a health tonic - served in water. Its very strong and robust flavour only lends itself to a few traditional recipes if used in cooking.

Coconut Sugar

Coconut sugar is a sugar produced from the sap of cut flower buds of the coconut palm. It has been used as a sweetener for thousands of years throughout Asia.  The sap is collected and then heated to evaporate the water content which results in a thick syrup which is then reduced into a crystalline granulated form. Coconut sugar is a low GI sugar that is also a rich source of potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron. Compared to brown sugar, coconut sugar has 36 times the iron, four times the magnesium, and over 10 times the amount of zinc!

Agave syrup

Agave nectar/syrup is the new darling sweetener of the health food world - but in reality it is far from a good option. Agave is a mild flavoured low GI sugar alternative - but one that is very high in fructose - close to 90%!  We have already learned above why we would want to avoid too much fructose. The other problem with agave is that it is not a traditional sweetener in the same way that honey or maple syrup is. Agave has only been manufactured since the 1990's and requires quite a bit of processing to get it to be edible and commercially viable. While it starts out as a sweet watery liquid known as aguamiel or 'honey water' - it undergoes centrifuge processing and enzymatic conversion that turns the natural sugars into ones rich in high fructose and dextrose and then it is further processed and evaporated to condense the sugar content. The resultant sugar nectar is a far cry from the original honey water traditionally consumed and it packs a powerful fructose punch.

Stevia

Stevia is a natural sweetener that comes from the very sweet leaves of the South American herb, Stevia rebaudiana. Stevia is a safe sweetener and has no effect on blood sugar balance or liver health - though it is very sweet and slightly bitter in its natural form and is not always suitable in all recipes. Processed Stevia products have had their bitter compounds removed and come in the way of granulated products or liquids that can be used in cooking.

 

So really, all in all, the best thing to do is to kick the sugar habit! Once you stop having sweet foods all the time, your body adjusts and the cravings abate. Ensuring plenty of good quality fats and protein in your diet will also be helpful when giving up sugar as it ensures your blood sugar stays stable and your cravings will be minimised. I often use key nutrients and herbs when we need to support the body in initially adjusting to a low sugar life, so consider some personalised support by way of a consultation, if you are struggling to curb sugar cravings.

Remember you are sweet enough - so no added sugar is required!

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Festive Season Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

BPA

BPA - a journey from industry to human exposure & health risks

I recently completed an Environmental Health unit as part of my Masters course. One of the environmental hazards I studied and wrote a paper on was BPA.  This chemical is widely distributed across the environment and capable of having far reaching impacts on human health.  

BPA has been in the media in recent times - due to concern over baby milk bottles made with BPA.   Widespread awareness of the potential for harm from BPA has lead to the banning of BPA bottles in many countries over recent years.  

 

So let's take a look at BPA in more detail and explore the issues concerning this chemical.

 

Bis-phenol A (BPA) is one of the chemicals known as endocrine disruptors that are now considered ubiquitous in the environment. BPA is one of the highest volume chemicals produced worldwide. Current estimates indicate that more than 8 billion pounds of BPA are produced annually and approximately 100 tons may be released into the atmosphere each year.

 

Where Does BPA Come From?

BPA is used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins that line food and beverage containers and also contribute to dental materials.

Additional uses for BPA include items that we come in contact with daily in domestic and workplace environments including the coating of CDs, DVDs, electronic equipment, automobiles, recycled paper and carbonless paper often used in register receipts.

Additionally, BPA has been measured in freshwater, seawater, landfill leachates, air, and dust particles. The widespread existence of BPA in the environment means humans and other species are at risk of exposure. BPA was detected in the urine samples of 92.6% of participants  in one US study and  BPA has been measured in human blood, breast milk, amniotic fluid and placental tissue.

 

How Do We Absorb It?

BPA can enter the body through different exposure routes. The majority of human exposures come through the oral or ingested route. Ingesting foods and drinks that have been stored in BPA lined packaging is the primary source of ingested BPA amongst children and adults.

There is evidence that acidic foods have a higher capacity to leach BPA and also heating of foods and drinks can increase the leaching from the packaging into the food.  Long term storage and reusing of plastic water bottles is also thought to increase the potential for leaching through breakdown of the plasticizers.  It is important to note that breastfed infants are also exposed through maternal colostrum and breast milk. A study found BPA in the breast milk of all 23 healthy women they examined.

Dental materials can also be a source of ingested BPA with the potential for leaching of the chemical out of composite dental materials.  We are also exposed via the skin through handling  carbonless cash register receipts and electrical equipment that use BPA.

 

What Happens Once BPA Gets In The Body?

Once BPA enters the body through ingestion of contaminated foods and drinks, it is rapidly metabolised by the gut and absorbed into the bloodstream.  Active forms of BPA are more likely through skin and air exposures - when the chemical is absorbed directly into the bloodstream and thus bypasses gut breakdown.

Many studies of the health effects of BPA have focused on its well-documented oestrogenic activity with the chemical having an affinity with the oestrogen receptor. Chemicals that can bind to oestrogen receptors can elicit an oestrogenic action much like our own oestrogen does.  While BPA is generally thought to only be a weak stimulant - the fear is that chronic long term low level exposure can still have serious health impacts.

The major at risk populations for the known harmful endocrine effects of BPA on the sensitive reproductive system are considered to be the foetus, infants, young children and potentially adolescents.

 

Some of the known health associations of high BPA concentrations include:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Liver dysfunction
  • Thyroid issues
  • Obesity
  • Cancer (particularly breast & prostate)

 

What Should We Do?
While much research has been conducted on animals and in vitro human cell lines, very little is actually known of the real impact of dose on human physiology.   The short term effects may not accurately reflect the potentially more serious and complex long term effects of repeated exposure.  We also have potential health issues from the 'cocktail' effect of being exposed to other endocrine disruptors such as phthalates and pesticides.

 

When clear risks are unknown, I recommend that we avoid our exposure as much as possible, particularly in infants and children. Avoiding canned foods and plastic food containers will limit overall exposure, but being mindful of the other exposures is also warranted.
It is also worth adding your voice to the debate and demanding that BPA be removed from all food sources!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spring is almost here…

 

Time to detox!

Spring is just around the corner and it is time to do a little spring cleaning.....inside and out.

But don't go grabbing the broom and cloths and start attacking your dusty shelves and corners just yet. I am meaning a little body cleanse is what is in order.

The seasons of spring and autumn are traditionally the best time to do detoxing, fasting and cleansing. These seasons are more gentle than the extremes of summer heat or the winter cold.  The body naturally shifts towards desiring a change in diet and lifestyle during these in between seasons.

In spring we tend to lighten up the diet with more salads, fruits and vegetables , while in autumn we often want warmth and denser foods to sustain us in the cold.  In previous times, when we lived closer to the land, the extremes of the seasons were more obvious. Nonetheless, our bodies still experience the seasonal shifts and it is great to work with this energy.

The shift from the cold towards the warmth of spring, brings with it a need to lighten up - both our food and our mood.

 

To assist you in giving yourself a little spring cleanse, energy boost and to help create a few good habits that will sustain you right through summer - I have created the Equinox Detox!  

Click here to learn more or register for the program.
To celebrate the launch of this new online group program, I am giving some lucky person a *free* registration.
Just comment below about why you might benefit from doing a detox.
  • Is it more energy?
  • Do you want to lose weight?
  • Would you like to feel younger?
  • Maybe you want to boost your immunity?
I will be selecting the lucky winner on 15th August, just in time to start the program on Monday 3rd September!

GOOD LUCK EVERYONE!

An Apple a Day

An Apple a Day, May Not Keep the Doctor Away...

...Unless it is organic, that is.

The US based, Environmental Working Group (EWG) have just released their latest audit on the pesticide residues in foods and apples top the list again.  In most commercial orchards, apples are sprayed 10-20 times per season.  I remember watching a documentary once that included an apple grower who said that he never ate his own apples, because he knew what was sprayed on them!

The group released the “dirty dozen” for the eighth year in a row – compiling a list of the most toxic fruits and vegetables, from the highest residue down to the least.

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries
  • Nectarines (imported)
  • Grapes
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Cucumbers
  • Blueberries (domestic)
  • Potatoes

 

I have always given my clients a list of the foods most likely to be contaminated with pesticide residue – and advised them to buy the organic version where possible.  This is particularly important for babies and children who eat proportionately more fruits and vegetables, weight for weight, compared to adults. Children also have a more immature liver function and are less capable of detoxifying the chemicals.

The “clean 15” list shows the foods that had the lowest pesticide residue

  • Onions
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapples
  • Avocado
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet peas
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Eggplant
  • Kiwi
  • Cantaloupe (domestic)
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Grapefruit
  • Watermelon
  • Mushrooms

Baby foods were assessed for the first time and while sweet potato came up the cleanest, most samples containing green beans and pears tested positive for pesticide residues.

It can help to be able to shop with these two lists in mind, especially when needing to manage the family budget but still wanting to be mindful of the health of your family!

While the overall risk of these foods needs to be assessed in light of the amount consumed and the toxicity of each pesticide, we do not know of the effect of the cocktail of different chemicals our bodies are exposed to day in and day out. While many chemicals are hard to avoid, if we can minimize the chemicals we ingest through food, then we can have a positive effect on our health.

According to the EWG, pesticide exposure is linked with a range of other health problems, including hormone disruption, cancer, brain toxicity, and skin, eye, and lung irritation.  Of course, other chemical food additives are also detrimental to health – including artificial food colourings, flavourings and preservatives – which are found in abundance in modern processed foods.

While many people believe that organic fruit and vegetables are more expensive, when buying in season and local, the prices are often quite similar.  Growing your own is of course the best way to do this!  Even growing a few fresh herbs and leafy greens can be done in the smallest of spaces or in pots.

 

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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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