Stress

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.

 

 

herb trial

Are you or a friend experiencing anxiety or depression?

You are Invited to Participate in a Herbal Medicine Clinical Trial

Karen is a lead practitioner in an ongoing research project that is evaluating the effectiveness of herbal medicine on the management of depression and anxiety. 
chamomileThe research is being jointly conducted by Endeavour College of Natural Health and the University of Technology Sydney and sponsored by Mediherb.
Herbal medicine offers a very effective tool for the management of mild to moderate depression and anxiety. Karen uses over 20 medicinal plants that have both research and clinical effectiveness for the treatment of mental health issues. Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety are increasingly common in our modern busy lives and can have a major impact on our quality of life, happiness and wellbeing. Utilising natural and effective herbal medicines can make a big difference and do not come with the standard side effects of mainstream drugs.

Your Medicine Costs Will Be Covered

The research data in this trial will be gathered over 3 consultations and any herbal medicines prescribed will be free of charge to the study participants for the three sessions. The study allows for flexibility of prescribing as the researchers are seeking to test the therapies as they are practised in the ‘real world’ by naturopaths.  Any of the medicines that Karen prescribes during your consultation to support your treatment aims will be dispensed and mailed out to you free of charge after your consultations.

Who is eligible for treatment and participation?

Holy Basil - a great herb for supporting the adrenals and nerves.

Holy Basil - a great herb for supporting the adrenals and nerves.

Only new patients or exisiting patients who I haven't recently treated for anxiety or depression will qualify. You must be experiencing depression or anxiety that has either been previously diagnosed medically or if you have a sense that you are experiencing mild to moderate depression or anxiety that is affecting your quality of life in some way, you are eligible to participate.

What if I am on medication already?

You can already be on pharmaceutical medication for depression or anxiety and still participate. There are some herbs we need to be careful not to prescribe in combination with various medications, but there are many more which can be used and could possibly improve medication outcomes.  Karen is highly experienced at managing these conditions with herbal medicines and also complimenting treatment with standard therapies when necessary.

What is the benefit for me?

While the regular consultation fee is charged for your three consultations, if you participate in the trial, you will receive your herbal medicine prescription free of charge as consideration for completing the necessary forms for the three consultations which are part of the study. Your treatment will still be personalised and prescribed on your individual needs and not be standardised to be the same for everyone. This is important research as it reflects how we use herbs in our naturopathic practice in an everyday application.
All going well, you are also highly likely to experience a positive change in your mental health! 

If I say "Yes", what will it involve?

lemonbalmIf you wish to be involved, you will need to commit to three consultation sessions which will be between 1-4 weeks apart, depending on the patient. The research component will only take a small amount of your time in addition to your consultation. You will have to complete five forms initially (one demographic form and four assessment questionnaires) at the initial consultation. After that there are four forms (the assessment questionnaires only) to be completed at the two subsequent follow-up consultations. These forms will take about 15 minutes to complete and will help to gather data to illustrate how the treatment is going. Due to the personal nature of this topic, some questions might make some people feel slightly embarrassed or uncomfortable, but are important for the treatment to be properly evaluated.
Karen will also provide detailed information about the herbal medicine treatment provided at each consultation and general advice on stress management and lifestyle.

What is the next step if I want to be involved?

You can learn more information about the study by visiting this website: http://herbsonthehill.com.au/anxiety-and-depression-study
If you would like to be involved, you can simply book online an appointment with Karen via clicking online bookings at either Buderim or Noosa clinics. 
Or you can call the Noosa clinic on 5449 7088 for Noosa bookings.
Just book a regular appointment if you are an exisiting patient or an initial appointment if you are a new patient. Please make sure you mention in the booking notes or to the receptionist that you wish to be involved in the trial, so the necessary paperwork can be prepared for you.  You will need to arrive a little earlier to fill the forms in, or they can be emailed out to you.
Here are some background forms for you to peruse about the trial before making your decision.

Looking forward to helping your heal with herbal plant power!

 MediHerb Logo Endeavour logo UTS logo 2

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!

 

 

 

Natural Menopause Solutions

Natural Menopause Solutions

Transitioning Naturally Through Menopause

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

 

Many things influence a woman's journey through menopause.

Many things influence a woman's journey through menopause.

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

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

 

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

 

Black Cohosh can help with menopause.

Black Cohosh can help with menopause.

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

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

 

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

 

Flaxseed can help modulate oestrogen.

Flaxseed can help modulate oestrogen.

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

 

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

 

 

natural treatment of acne

Natural Treatment of Acne

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

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

Causes of Acne

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

sadteengirl

Acne can have a big impact on self esteem

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

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

Natural Treatment of Acne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Natural Topical Treatments

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

Honey can be used to soothe and heal the skin

Honey can be used to soothe and heal the skin

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

 

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

 

natural treatment for autoimmune disease

Natural Treatment for Autoimmune Disease

We have seen a real increase over the past few decades in a host of diseases that are often called diseases of affluence. These degenerative diseases are on the rise include heart disease, cancer and a category known as autoimmune diseases.

Antibodies attack normal healthy cells in the body in cases of autoimmune disease.

Antibodies attack normal healthy cells in the body in cases of autoimmune disease.

Autoimmune diseases are a broad category that share a common immune dysfunction – essentially when the body attacks itself. In autoimmune diseases, the body fails to recognise itself correctly and starts to see its own tissues or cells as foreign it begins to attack the tissue as if it is a foreign invader. Immune cells, called antibodies, are created against our own tissue and launch an attack which destroys and damages the tissue.

Autoimmune diseases can affect many different parts of the body and there are thought to be more than 80 known autoimmune disorders. For example in rheumatoid arthritis the antibodies are directed against the joints causing inflammation, pain and loss of mobility. In Hashimotos or Graves disease the body makes antibodies against a person’s thyroid causing an overactive or underactive thyroid disorder. Other autoimmune diseases include inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohns diease), lupus, multiple sclerosis and type 1 diabetes. All autoimmune diseases result in destruction of tissue which leads to loss of function over time. Some people can get more than one autoimmune disease.

General symptoms of autoimmune disease may include fatigue, malaise and low grade fevers. Symptoms of autoimmune diseases can come and go with some cases going in to remission for years. Many patients report increased stress as a prelude to developing an autoimmune disease or as a flare up of existing autoimmune disorder. This can seem odd as we know that stress normally has a negative effect on the immune system as increased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, has an immune suppressant effect. So this reveals the complexity of the immune system – a system that has a delicate balance that can be easily upset.  Interestingly, many women find that their autoimmune disease goes into remission while they are pregnant as the immune system normally is mildly suppressed during pregnancy.

Causes of Autoimmune Disease

viral autoThe exact cause of autoimmunity is not known, but there are some theories as to why the immune system becomes aberrant. Other than stress, mentioned above, other triggers known to stimulate autoimmune disease can be infections – in this case the immune system gets a workout and the heightened activity appears to increase certain immune cells that can cause autoimmunity. Research has shown that viruses are behind many autoimmune disorders, with different potential actions such as molecular mimicry, bystander activation and the persistence of a virus that leads to high antibody levels. Multiple sclerosis, myocarditis and diabetes are three immune-medicated diseases often linked with virus infections. Allergies are another possible cause of autoimmune diseases. There is much research being done to identify possible allergens that can mimic our own body cells. For example some allergens have a very close resemblance to our own cells. The immune cells constantly circulate looking for the allergens but when they find the similar looking body cells they can attack these by mistake.

Treatments for Autoimmune Disease

Conventional treatments for autoimmune disease include suppressing the immune system with drugs (such as steroids) or it may require replacing a hormone or substance that has become deficient. For example in Type I diabetes, destruction of the pancreas impedes the output of insulin so the patient is required to inject insulin to maintain health. In Hashimotos disease, patients need to have thyroid hormone as the destruction of the thyroid tissue decreases the output of this essential hormone.

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

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

Naturopathic treatments assess the whole person and tries to identify imbalances that can cause dysfunction. Reducing the allergenic load of a patient can calm the immune response and may bring about a reduction in the symptoms of some types of autoimmunity. Assessment of an individual’s diet and digestive health is a very important component of managing autoimmune diseases. Removing potential food allergens and following an anti-inflammatory diet can definitely help some autoimmune diseases. Vitamin D deficiency has now been linked with a range of autoimmune diseases as the nutrient interacts with our genes and modulates our immunity. Many patients I have seen with autoimmune disease are very deficient in this important nutrient and correcting deficiency is essential.

Echinacea is a great immune modulating herb.

Echinacea is a great immune modulating herb.

Other nutrients such as omega 3 fats and certain herbs can bring about a reduction in inflammation and pain in some patients. There is often a mistaken belief that immune boosting herbs such as Echinacea should not be used in autoimmunity. This is incorrect, as many of the immune supportive herbs actually work to normalise and modulate immune function rather than stimulate it per se. For example in cases where the immunity is overstimulated the herbs can help to calm the response and in cases where the immune system is underactive the herbs can stimulate a normal response.

Other herbs such as Hemidesmus have more of an immune suppressant action. I have used immune modulating herbs many times with good outcomes in patients with autoimmunity. Consulting with a professional naturopath or herbalist is always the best way to get the right formula matched to your individual case.

Hopefully, more research in the future will uncover the causes behind autoimmunity and bring about increased understanding, improved prevention and better treatments.

 

Dangers of Doctor Google

Dangers of Doctor Google

Google-DrWith the advent of google and everyone being able to access health information, the general public has never been more aware and informed about health and disease. This is, for the most part, a wonderful thing. I am a major proponent of patient education and information and most of what I do is to promote self reliance in your diet and lifestyle choices and help you achieve optimal health and prevent disease.

The internet can be a wonderful tool for accessing information, recipes, ideas and other health tips. However, all this comes with a warning. 'Google' and other search engines are not always your friend and may indeed be a foe when it comes to health. There are dangers in seeking online advice, particularly when it comes to diagnosing an illness. Without the medical training and knowledge of tired 2the body, it can be hard to interpret the information and make sense of the often conflicting information. Research in the UK, found that around 25% of women made a wrong diagnosis based on using the internet for their health issues. In many cases they misdiagnosed breast cancer, thrush, high blood pressure and asthma. Researchers also found that at least 10% of women experienced unpleasant feelings and worry after their self-diagnosis.

I have had many instances of patients who have come in after googling their symptoms, and they are full of anxiety that they have a serious illness. Anxiety and panic attacks themselves are often the source of much googling and of course can mimic a range of other serious illnesses. We can get into overwhelm and worry very easily when researching health issues for ourselves or loved ones online. In the worse case scenario, we may make changes to our diet or take inappropriate supplements that can jeopardise our health. High profile cases that have been reported, include Melbourne parents who fed their new born infant rice milk as they were worried about dairy allergy. The infant ended up getting severe malnutrition and died from a systemic candida infection.

Karen@clinicAnother, often overlooked pitfall of managing your own health via online or virtual support is that you get exhausted managing your own health and you may be too close to your own case or your child's cases to get perspective. There is something really liberating in receiving support and care from a trusted practitioner who can give your a clear picture of what is going on and prescribe appropriate measures to take. Letting go and receiving support is healing in itself and is why I still seek the support and care of other holistic practitioners for managing aspects of my own healthcare.

Do You Know Where Your Nutritional and Herbal Supplements come from?

UnknownThe ability to easily access health information online has lead to a massive increase in self-prescribed medicines and people can now buy all sorts of things online from local and overseas companies. Sourcing your own vitamins and herbal supplements may be safe and appropriate. However, it is important to know that there are no safeguards in place for either what you have decided to take or the quality of what you end up purchasing. The quality of online and over the counter supplements can be highly variable.

Manufacturing standards are not as stringent in many countries producing herbal and nutritional supplements as they are in Australia. This includes the USA, China and India who are some of the leading manufacturers of herbal products. Products produced in some of these countries may have elevated levels of heavy metals, pesticides, or microbial contaminants, as herbs are not screened for contaminants in many countries. They may also contain low levels of stated herbal active ingredients, the wrong herb entirely, or be adulterated with other unknown ingredients. Many reported cases of serious side effects from herbal or nutritional products have been traced back to heavy metal contamination or poisonous herbs that were disguised or misidentified and included in the product. Clearly, taking products that are contaminated or adulterated poses a serious risk to the general public, especially those who are already unwell and more vulnerable.

As a practitioner I only source from companies that I can rely on for quality and effectiveness. I need to know that what I am giving my patients is what it says it is to ensure the best effect and outcome. I also need to be confident that there are no hidden nasties in any product such as fillers, binders or preserving agents that might cause allergies or have other negative impacts. For most Australian practitioner quality products, there is a high level of testing and quality assurance.

medherbHere are some of the standard guidelines used by a range of Australian practitioner suppliers who I recommend and prescribe:

  • Herbal ingredients are sourced where possible from organic, fair trade, sustainable or wild-crafted (harvested) crops.
  • Herbal ingredients are tested to ensure the correct material is used and the active ingredients of the herb are at an appropriate level.
  • Nutritional products are formulated with nutrient combinations that are appropriate and synergistic for the desired effect.
  • Nutritional ingredients are tested to ensure correct composition and include the ones that are most active and bio-available for the body to utilise.
  • Products are manufactured under stringent Good Manufacturing Practice conditions.
  • Finished products are tested again to confirm that active ingredients have survived the manufacturing process.
  • Microbiological tests are performed to ensure safety before released for sale.
  • Products are placed on stability trials so that you know what is on the label is in the product and that the product will be active until the use by date.
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To me Karen is an absolute angel! I highly recommend Karen to anyone who is going through the whole ‘roller coaster’ journey of IVF. It was so lovely to actually have someone that actually listened to me, it was in 2010 when we decided we would give IVF one last go before having a break. Karen put me on a super tonic which I call her ‘magic potion’ and after a few weeks in taking this my FSH levels dropped dramatically and this was my lucky month and my dream had finally came true. I always feel so positive every time I leave Karen’s rooms, I’m so glad that I found her I can never thank her enough for my positive out come!
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