Nature

Food Cravings and Instinctive Eating

Exploring the science behind food cravings...

Kale please, Mum!

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

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

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

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

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

food habits over time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buon appetito!

sun gazing

Sun Gazing

sun
Have you been told to never look at the sun?
Or that staring at the sun is bad for your eyes?

We have so many fears and phobias around the sun in modern times, that many people have come to believe that it is harmful to be exposed to the sun at all.  We slather our skin in sunscreen, cover up with clothes, wear sunglasses, stay indoors and generally avoid the sun.

Though many of us still crave the warmth and light that the sun brings, and going to the beach in summer will show you the many people who still like to sun bake, despite the dire warnings. The medical condition, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also affects many people in northern or southern climates during the winter months when daylight hours are reduced and exposure to sunlight is very low. The lack of light has been found to reduce production of the neurotransmitter serotonin (our happy hormone) and this can create mood disorders and depression.

Well, in reality most of us are not getting sufficient exposure to the sun, not just those in extreme climates. This is most easily demonstrated by the widespread issue of vitamin D deficiency, which is evident even in warm sunny Queensland!  We require adequate exposure to sunlight to maintain our vitamin D levels, without which we experience bone loss, immune disturbances and hormonal imbalances to mention just a few issues arising from vitamin D deficiency. You can learn more about vitamin D and how much sun you need here.

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

But vitamin D aside, are we missing something else necessary for health by avoiding the sun? Well, yes! Exposure to the sun’s light is essential for regulating a range of important biochemical pathways. For instance, skin diseases such as psoriasis, vitiligo and eczema can be treated successfully with solar radiation (heliotherapy) or artificial UV radiation (phototherapy). UV exposure has been shown to suppress the clinical symptoms of multiple sclerosis independently of vitamin D status.

Interesting research has found that exposure to UV light generates nitric oxide. Nitric oxide has an important role in cardiovascular health, reducing blood pressure and it may also have antimicrobial effects and it can act as a mood regulating neurotransmitter. Exposure to UV light may also improve mood through the release of the feel good chemicals endorphins.[1]

Our pineal gland and melatonin output is dependent on our exposure to light and dark cycles and our adrenal gland function and cortisol output is optimised through exposure to light, promoting energy in the body. There are other solar energy theories that presuppose humans can generate energy from the sun much as solar batteries create energy from the sun and plants generate energy through photosynthesis. This was proven in NASA research on Hira Ratan Matek,  highlighted later in this article.

sunworshipHeliotherapy or sun therapy has been around in different guises and cultures for millennia. The ancient Egyptians, Aztecs, Greeks, Romans and Indians all shared a strong cultural practice of sun therapies and/or sun worship. I have heard about the practice of sun gazing for a while, but new research made me take a fresh look at it. At the International Congress of Naturopathic Medicine where I presented in Barcelona in July, I met an interesting researcher from India who was presenting new research on sun gazing. The researchers at the Pavitra Nature and Yoga Hospital showed sun gazing for 15 minutes for 2 weeks resulted in improvements in refractory error (short or long sightedness) with changes in visual acuity and discontinuation of spectacles in 25 out of 34 subjects in the case group.[2]

The reason behind these benefits may seem strange at first, but when we remember the fact that the sun provides the basis for all life on earth, it makes more sense. The sun governs our life cycles, the seasonal cycles and the day night cycle. We have evolved in close connection to nature, the earth and the seasonal cycles and the sun is a major part of this. Our biochemistry has developed strong links and benefits from sun exposure as well as important defence mechanisms to protect us from the potential damage of too much sun. There are many mechanisms that are as yet unknown in the complex interaction between the sun and human health and wellbeing.

starvingSun gazing has become something of a growing trend in many places across the world. A popular technique was developed by an Indian man, Hira Ratan Manek, (left) who claims he can survive on solar energy alone and doesn’t need to eat. Research funded by NASA looked into the phenomenon of sun gazing and studied the man. The team of medical doctors at the University of Pennsylvania observed Hira 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 100 days. NASA confirmed that he was indeed able to survive largely on light with occasionally a small amount of buttermilk or water during this time. The sun's energy moves through the eyes and charges the hypothalamus tract and neurons and Hira's were reported to be active and not dying. Furthermore, the pineal gland was expanding and not shrinking a phenomenon unknown for someone Hira’s age.

Many advocates of sun gazing claim that the sun has the ability to generate energy in the body and also project some kind of benefical power towards manifesting higher goals and wishes.

Hira has given instructions on his technique of sun gazing and it involves other practices such as a plant food diet and earthing. To partake in the sun gazing activities, advocates recommend starting with small amounts of exposure of the eyes to the sun for just 10 seconds. Each day you increase the time by a further 10 seconds, until after a few months, you are looking at the sun for 15 minutes and slowly continuing to increase until you reach 30 mins. It is important to only look at the sun in the first hour after it rises in the morning or an hour before it sets in the evening. This will prevent any damage occurring to the eye from too much harsh light. Before embarking on any experimenting with sun gazing you should research for yourself the techniques and assess the risks and benefits for your own case.

solar-flare-closeupLastly, another interesting phenomenon of the sun’s impact on our health and wellbeing involves solar flares. Modern science has shown that solar flares have a powerful impact on life on earth for many species.  A solar flare is a sudden flash of brightness observed near the sun’s surface that involves a huge amount of energy and emissions that affect all layers of the solar atmosphere and can affect weather patterns, cause power outages and impact on technology such as radio transmission on earth. It is has also been shown that solar flares can impact on human health, particularly affecting heart rhythms, blood flow and blood pressure, sleep patterns, behaviour and mood.

So hopefully when you look at the sun next time you are out and about you may take time to consider the power and health potential of this great cosmic being!

 

[1] Juzeniene A, Moan J, Beneficial effects of UV radiation other than via vitamin D production Dermatoendocrinol. 2012 Apr 1; 4(2): 109–117.

[2] Subramanian, S. “Effect of Sun-gazing on refractive errors: a wait-list controlled trial” Pavitra Nature & Yoga Hospital, India  (presented at the 3rd Intl Congress of Naturopathic Medicine”)

Black Sapote

The black sapote fruit, is also commonly called chocolate pudding fruit, due to its resemblance to a sticky chocolate pudding!
This unusual fruit comes from the persimmon family and makes a delicious and healthy treat that is also very versatile in cooking. It is quite high in vitamin C and Vitamin A as well as containing potassium and a few other minerals.

black-sapote-green

black-sapote-ripe

 

We are blessed with a large established tree that rains down black sapotes throughout spring. They fall off the tree hard and green and then you must allow them to ripen on the bench for a few days (a bit like an avocado) until they get soft and the skin changes to a dark green/brown colour. They almost look like they are spoiled and over ripe at this point, but that is the best time for eating. You can then store them ripe in the fridge for a few more days if need be. You can sometimes see black sapotes at organic shops and locally at green grocers during their season in sub tropical and tropical areas.

The black sapote flesh is rich and creamy and it has a mildly sweet and chocolate flavour. I find it is delicious whipped into a chocolate mousse with some organic cream and a splash of maple syrup!  You can also add it to smoothies and make a simple chocolate ice cream by freezing the mashed up pulp.

sapote-cakeIt is great in cakes and brownies. You can use it much like you would a mashed banana in recipes and you can also add extra cacao or dark chocolate for a stronger chocolate flavour. I just created this recipe below for a chocolate banana cake!

Get my recipe for a banana and chocolate sapote cake

 

Harmful Effects of Screen Time

Harmful Effects of Screen Time

Kids and Media Use:  How Much is Too Much?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Boost your brain power

Natural Ways to Boost Your Brain Power

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Thyme

creeping thyme.JPGTime for Thyme!

Thyme is one of my favourite herbs in the dispensary for complaints such as colds, coughs and bronchitis.

The medicinal benefits of thyme have been recognized for thousands of years in many different regions and countries throughout the world. Thyme has a range of medicinal actions including anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic. In addition to thyme chest congestion remedies and using it for respiratory issues such as sore throats, thyme has also been used for arthritis and urinary tract complaints.

Thyme is rich in aromatic essential oils, which is another reason that aside from its use in my clinic, it is also a popular herb in my kitchen for cooking! It pairs well with roast vegetables and meats and the effects of its essential oils on the gut mean that it can also improve digestion. The powerful essential oil has even been shown to be a potent inhibitor of harmful bacterias such as Staph and the tincture of thyme has been found to be beneficial for acne.

balmThyme is an ingredient in my popular lung and cough tea. Another great way to use Thyme is by making a chest rub, that can be a wonderful addition to your winter medicine kit! It is much like the classic Vicks vaporub but uses natural oils and beeswax rather than petroleum jelly as a base (which like other mineral oils and paraffin can leach minerals out of your body). It is super easy to make and lovely to use.

Lemon Foot Bath

Lemon foot baths are a simple, yet very effective way to ground yourself and support healing and wellbeing.

 

lemonA lemon foot bath will stimulate blood circulation, support our warmth body and promote gentle cleansing and healing. They are perfect to use during transitions and times of change or when you feel a bit overwhelmed or have a lot going on. Children can especially benefit from lemon footbaths when they have picked up too much from the environment or after busy days out and about. The healing qualities of lemon will help ground them and restore balance and harmony.

The feet are particularly absorbent skin surface and have a long history of being used to administering medicines. Foot baths can help to bring the energy down from the head into the feet and induce calm and balance.

Click on link to download my Lemon Footbath Instructions

 

 

 

Self Care at Christmas

Self Care At Christmas

selfcarechristmasThis year I want to focus on giving advice not just on staying physically healthy during the festive season, but also how to stay sane, calm and centred. While our physical wellbeing is often under threat at this time of year when we are tempted with less than healthy festive foods and drinks, our emotional health and wellbeing is just as at risk. Self care at Christmas is something we often don't focus on, but is very important.

It is so easy to get pulled off centre when life gets busy and our schedules get over full. In reality, being off centre can make it harder to stay committed to our health goals. It can be a scenario of the “chicken or the egg”. Making poor choices with diet and lifestyle can make us feel unhealthy and less connected and motivated to our needs and goals. And in turn when we are less connected with our true selves, we can end up making poorer choices. And on it goes, with one aspect causing the other or at least exacerbating the other.

So staying calm, centred and connected is paramount to our health and wellbeing at this time of year. It helps us to cope with the busyness and general frantic energy that can prevail around Christmas and helps us stay in tune with what is best for us – on all levels.

Giving and Receiving

For many of us, gift giving brings great joy and happiness. Receiving, on the other hand, can be much harder. It is easy when we are children to receive, but slowly over the years we can often find it harder to receive from others or give to ourselves. Whether it is givingcompliments or gifts, the scenario can be the same.

In my experience this pattern is especially true for women. We give to everyone and care for everyone first and then put ourselves last, not expecting anything back. But this is a dysfunctional pattern and one that is not sustainable. It can develop into fatigue and burnout or subtle or obvious feelings of resentment and anger. So now is the time to give to yourself! Over the festive season prioritise your time and activities and schedule some time out for you. Practice receiving by giving to yourself, accepting or asking for help from others. Remember to also foster feelings of gratitude and appreciation towards yourself as well as others.

Self Care in Action

Everyone has a range of personal things they can do to best nourish themselves. While it is an individual thing, here are somefootbath suggestions to get you started:

  • Massage
  • Bath – full body or just a foot bath works
  • Listen to music (and dance!)
  • Walk in nature (especially good at sunrise or sunset)
  • Gardening
  • Crafting
  • Reading
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Beach swim and walk
  • Beautician trip
  • Body pampering with scrub and body oils

Choose something from this list and practice it with conscious intention to make it a special soul nurturing activity. Try to get something in every day – even if it is just 5 mins, when it is done with focus and presence it can make all the difference.

Wishing you a special soul-centred Christmas, that is filled with true giving and receiving to both yourself and others, and much health and vitality too!

Karen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food Intolerance

Could Food Be Contributing to Your Disease?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Coping With Motherhood

 

New mothers all around the world are given the same job description which looks something like this:
  • Must be able to multi-task 24 hours a day, cope with no sleep and expect no pay. No prior training is available. Job satisfaction is anticipated to be high.”

Motherhood-imageCertainly new motherhood brings with it unprecedented joy but also a fair share of anxiety and exhaustion. With so much to learn from feeding, changing nappies and sleep cues to settling and interpreting crying, mothers often look outside themselves for answers. Yet despite our information age of internet and chat forums, as mothers we should also remember that we possess good instincts and intuition that ought to be listened to. So many mothers go against their instincts when they choose to follow some of the modern parenting styles such as controlled crying and teaching early independence. When we really stop to listen to what we need and what our children need, there is no need for experts because we already know the answers. Even so, the road to being a relaxed and confident mother often starts rocky and has many pitfalls.

Postnatal depression is common these days as mothers struggle to meet their own and society’s expectations.   The myth of the superwoman who can have it all – a successful career, happy children, a healthy relationship and personal intimacy has been questioned more and more in recent years. We now know that this is hard to achieve or sustain and rarely brings the quality of life that we want. Most mothers (and fathers) crave more time with their kids and more meaningful relationships with their partners and loved ones. When this fails to be achieved it can bring about depression and anxiety.

mother overwhelmOther causes of postnatal depression are birth dissatisfaction or trauma, not having any support from family or friends and hormonal imbalance. Another risk factor for postnatal depression and anxiety which affects most new mothers is simple sleep deprivation. Babies are born very dependent on their mothers for their wellbeing and survival.  Unlike most species, humans are born with an immature physical and mental capacity and they take the longest to mature to adulthood.  This means that babies and children depend on their parents (or caregivers) completely for food, clothing, shelter, warmth, hygiene and emotional security.   These needs are most intense and physically demanding in the early days and often lead to exhaustion.

Babies need to be fed regularly as their tiny tummies don’t hold much. Humans are a ‘cached’ species – meaning that we have evolved carrying our babies and feeding them regularly. The composition of breastmilk is designed for this close relationship with mother and baby. It is high in lactose (milk sugar) and relatively low in protein and fat. This means that babies really need to feed regularly as breastmilk is quickly broken down.   This contrasts with ruminant mammals such as cows whose milk is much higher in protein and allows the offspring to have much longer stretches between milk feeds and they grow quickly to maturity over a year or two.

Being up feeding a tiny baby in the night means a full night’s sleep is uncommon for mothers in the first 6-12 months.   Breastfeeding does offer some help by way of hormones such as oxytocin and prolactin that promote calm and connection. After breastfeeding mothers tend to sleep deeper and more soundly until the next feed, so even though their sleep is interrupted it is still refreshing. Even so, night after night does add up and most mothers end up feeling tired and emotional at least some of the time.

timeout natureLooking after ourselves really well is essential to prevent exhaustion and depression.   This means making sure you eat a healthy, nutritious diet to provide nutrients for physical and mental wellness and stamina.   If depression or anxiety is apparent then herbal and nutritional remedies can be safe and effective, even while breastfeeding.  Mothers of all ages need to take time out for themselves regularly. Even just a short walk, a long bath or the occasional massage can really help with our ability to cope with the demands of motherhood. Ensuring you have a nap in the day occasionally can really help to recharge your mind and body.

Baby’s thrive on gentle rhythms and predictability and are easily upset by overstimulation and too many activities. As parents we need to welcome this time of quietness and stillness and learn to say ‘no’ to unnecessary engagements. Slowing down and not over-committing to social engagements is a good idea. Trying to let some days unfold at their own pace will bring a sense of calm and peace for you and your baby.

Last of all, build a community of likeminded friends and ask for help from family where possible. Support makes all the difference – so don’t try to do it all on your own!

 

 

 

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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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