Preventative Health

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.

 

 

 

Fever

Natural Fever Management

fever thermometerI see many children in my practice with recurrent infections and lowered immunity. In these cases, I always check in with the parent about their usual routine for fever management. So many parents are scared of fevers and I spend a large part of the consultation educating about the importance of fevers, their role in immunity and how to manage them more naturally.  It is not uncommon for parents to give multiple doses of paracetamol or ibuprofen containing medicines to lower a fever. While every parent is well meaning and wants to ease discomfort in their child, these drugs are not without side effects. Many children overdose from excess paracetamol ingestion and it is the leading cause of paediatric hospital admissions and calls to poisons information hotlines.  Children aged between 1-3 years old have the highest incidence of accidental poisoning.

Why Do Fevers Occur?

coldFevers are a common occurrence in children and less common in adults possibly due to a child's immune system being more immature and many adults tend to suppress the fever response over the years and have a generally lower vitality. The most important thing to know is that fevers are not a disease but rather a symptom of another disease process. The body uses a fever to stimulate and enhance the immune system to deal with the actual disease process. A fever may occur in response to many different challenges that the body faces, including infections, burns, dehydration, heatstroke, vaccination, drug and alcohol use, excessive exertion and exhaustion. In babies and young children fevers can also accompany teething, overdressing and overexcitement. Most fevers that occur are the result of a viral infection and are considered a natural defence mechanism employed by the immune system.  Research has revealed that the raising of core body temperature destroys many viruses and bacteria which can only survive in a narrow temperature range. Fevers also enhance immunity through increasing white cell counts.

The thermoregulation of the body (temperature control mechanism) is a finely regulated process. While many people get alarmed that the body temperature is elevating and might not stop, it is important to understand that the fever process is finely regulated by the brain. The hypothalamus (brain region) acts like a thermostat and responds to substances in the body and can increase or decrease temperature states.  These substances called pyrogens are produced by the body but are also produced by infectious agents such as viruses and other pathogens. In most cases though the temperature rises to 39-40.5 and stops. In very rare cases, if the core temperature stays elevated for too long at a very high temperature above 41 degrees C, it is possible for the fever to cause damage to tissue and impair cell function.

But what about febrile convulsions – aren’t they dangerous?

brainThe fear of a febrile convulsion is certainly what drives many parents to turn to paracetamol or ibuprofen during a fever. A febrile convulsion or mini seizure normally occurs when the body temperature rises too rapidly and contrary to popular thinking is not due to how high the temperature is per se.  A febrile convulsion generally only lasts one to two minutes but can last up to 10-15 minutes. The actual risk of febrile convulsion is actually very low, only occuring in approximately 3% of children. These convulsions, while being stressful to witness, are actually benign, do not damage the brain or impair intelligence. There is no long term complications or increased risk of epilepsy or other seizures following a febrile convulsions. Research has shown that paracetamol does not decrease the risk of febrile convulsions. It is possible that as the medicines wear off, there can be a more rapid rise in temperature as the body attempts to increase the fever response and that might be a possible trigger for seizures.

Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever?

sick childLike many ‘old wive’s tales’ there is truth in this saying. When we eat while having a fever it diverts energy away from the vital response and can decrease our ability to fight the illness. In addition, it is possible that the body may misinterpret food substances absorbed from the gut as allergens during a fever response as it is on high alert. In most cases of fever, our body ensures we don’t eat too much anyway, as our appetite is often very low and we don’t feel like eating.  However, it is very important to remain well hydrated during a fever as the increased body temperature and sweating can lead to dehydration. Small frequent drinks of water and medicinal herbal teas are best initially in the early stages and then you can use bone or vegetable broth or diluted vegetable juices once on the mend.

It is normal for a fever to increase the heart rate and be accompanied by other symptoms such as a headache. Remember that when using paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve a headache or lower the fever might make your child more comfortable, it will also make their body work harder to fight the infection. So instead of trying to bring a fever down, consider allowing it to do its job. I find in most incidences when a fever is allowed to run its natural course the patient

dispensaryrecovers much quicker. I have also found that in cases of chronic lowered immunity and recurrent infections, allowing a fever to run its course has an immune enhancing effect that boosts the vitality and helps to prevent another infection – effectively breaking the cycle of recurrent infections. There are some remedies that you can use during a fever to alleviate some of the unpleasant side effects but still support your body. I find homeopathic remedies can be effective and some herbal teas are useful.  Supporting your body with vitamins can also be a good way to enhance the immune response without lowering the fever.

Natural Fever Management Tips

When dealing with a fever, you should aim to support yourself or your child by staying warm, keeping well hydrated and getting plenty of rest.  The onset of sweating will often resolve the fever, but do not force your child to be over dressed or covered to stimulate this.  As a general rule, if you or your child is still shivering or has cold hands or feet, do not attempt to lower the temperature as the body is still raising the temperature to the optimal level.  Wait until the body is universally hot or sweating has started, as this heralds the climax of temperature. The body will naturally bring the temperature down when it deems that the time is right.

RED FLAG : redflag
  • While most fevers can be managed safely at home, always seek medical advice when fevers are accompanied by other major or severe symptoms such as persistent cough, vomiting, headache with neck stiffness, respiratory distress or marked mood disturbance or when fevers are very high and continue for more than 24-48 hours.

 

 

Summary of Tips For Managing Fever and Keeping Hydrated
  • Offer plenty of water or rehydrating formulas but avoid using juice or milk as hydrating agents

broth

  • Use homemade bone broth or vegetable broths / soups once on the mend. Recipe is available here.
  • Herbal teas such as rosehip, yarrow, elderflower & peppermint can help with fever and cold symptoms.

homoeopathy

  • Homoeopathics such as Belladonna, Aconite are great for sudden onset fevers.
  • Tepid baths and sponging can make children more comfortable and will help to lower the fever a little if you feel it needs to.
  • Make sure  you or your child child gets plenty of rest and sleep!

 

 

 

 

Stress and weight gain

Stress and Weight Gain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Self Care

Radical Self Care

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Bookending Our Days

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Self Care Strategies

 

 

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.

 

 

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”)

preventative medicine

Preventative Medicine is the best medicine!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Natural Solutions For Hypertension

Natural Solutions for Hypertension

heart steth

Hypertension is a major risk factor for many diseases

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

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

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

sphygmo

There are many natural solutions for hypertension

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

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

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

Hawthorn is one of the best herbs for the heart.

Hawthorn is one of the best herbs for the heart.

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

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

 

 

 

Harmful Effects of Screen Time

Harmful Effects of Screen Time

Kids and Media Use:  How Much is Too Much?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

men’s health

Men's Health

A Spotlight on the Challenges

Women’s health issues tend to enjoy more attention than men’s health, however, Australian men are at a higher risk of developing  many chronic diseases and have a lower life expectancy than women. 

unhealthyThe leading health issues for men are heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, depression and substance abuse – including tobacco and alcohol. Young men have specific health concerns are at greater risk of depression and injury and death from accidents, suicide and self harm. Young men are almost three times more likely to die than young women.  Men from indigenous or poor socio-economic backgrounds are at greater risk of dying from a range of diseases including heart disease, respiratory problems and suicide than men from higher socio-economic backgrounds.

Given that men have a higher risk than women and are more likely to die from degenerative diseases like heart disease and cancer – one might expect men to be more conscious of their health than women.  However, the opposite is true. Many men are reluctant to visit health professionals for regular checkups and they often ignore signs of ill health until symptoms get quite bad.  Thus men often present in medical clinics with quite advanced illness due to the long delay in seeking medical  assistance.   In contrast, women are far more likely to be concerned with their everyday health and regularly visit their doctors for routine tests such as PAP smears and breast screenings.

stressmanThere is much debate and questioning from medical and social commentators about why gender plays such a role in predicting health outcomes. Obviously gender will play a role in the development of specific reproductive diseases.  However, there are many more subtle differences in women and men from an environmental and social perspective. Some of the environmental issues for men are occupational health and safety. Men often work in occupations that pose a greater risk to their health.   In the professional sector, men are often working in excess of 48 hours a week, which will significantly impact on their physical health, family relationships and emotional wellbeing. With reduced leisure time, men are exercising less and getting more obese.

Many men that I see in my practice are there because their partner has recommended it.  They are often uncomfortable talking about their complaints and reluctant to discuss their emotional wellbeing.  Men are known to deny experiencing emotional stress and are more likely to abuse alcohol or other drugs to cope with stress. There is an unspoken expectation in our society for men to be stoic, strong and self reliant which often translates to not seeking help for physical or emotional problems. Interestingly, research shows that men who are in supportive relationships and have high job satisfaction are more likely to have positive attitudes and moods.  Getting men to visit a health clinic is a good first step, however it is unfortunate that the compliance amongst men for continuing with medical or allied health treatments is quite poor.  Men will often wait until things are worse or become more serious before following up again with health practitioners.

It is hard to know how we might change the habits of Australian men to allow them to take better care of their health.  Common male health complaints that can be improved with holistic and preventative health strategies include heart disease, prostate enlargement, obesity, diabetes, stress and depression, digestive disorders and infertility.  Male infertility is on the rise and poor sperm count can also be a symptom of other factors such as stress, alcohol, smoking and poor diet.

mansaladMany of the men that I see in my practice have poor diets and skipping meals is a common occurrence.  A healthy diet is a basic preventative strategy, that is known to positively influence and prevent many diseases.  Men, like many women, often do not realise what is healthy and can find changing their habits hard.  Practical changes such as switching to a healthy breakfast option like porridge, muesli or eggs and taking a healthy packed lunch to work can often make a real difference to your health and wellbeing.

Other positive life changes include exercise and developing work life balance and stress management techniques.  Meditation is a tool that men can learn and employ to help deal with stress and emotional issues. My stress management workshop can be a good place to start for many men, who may benefit from better managing their stress and workload.

 

 

 

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Busy But Balanced Stress Management Workshop @ Cooroy Mountain | Cooroy Mountain | Queensland | Australia
Busy But Balanced – Stress Management for a Busy Life Do you want to feel inner peace and happiness? Do you want to achieve more balance in your life? Do you want to stay centred and[...]
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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