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adventures in Ireland & London

Adventures in Ireland & London...

I took off on a girl's own adventure of sorts in June and July - to visit Ireland and London....here are my highlights!

20170622_055407_resizedAfter spending the best part of the last 15 years busy mothering and working, it was a rare treat to have some solo time for travel. As I was heading to speak in London at the International Naturopathic Congress, I decided to take some time out to complete a short pilgrimage walk and do some mountain hiking through Ireland. It had been on my 'bucket list' for a while, so the universe aligned and it seemed that my time had come. Although I dislike international flying, it was easier traveling solo without the kids.  When arriving in Dublin after 24 hours of flying, I got locked into my Airbnb accomodation. I was deliriously tired and starving, but in the end was rescued by a lovely young woman who took me under her wing and took me out with her, showing me some famous Irish hospitality. Half way through the evening we discovered we were both McElroy's and both of our grandparents/great grandparents heralded from County Tyrone. So we decided we were probably related as distant cousins of sorts, which was the strangest synchronicity!

 

20170622_071413_resizedI soon headed off from bustling Dublin to the magical Irish countryside where I started my pilgrimage walk, in the name of Brigid - Ireland's ancient goddess/Saint. I spent 3 days making my way through rural areas, farms, forest, bogs and along the grand canal to finally arrive at the historic town of Kildare. I was the only one doing the walk as a solo pilgrimage, and I often walked without seeing anyone else for hours.  This was a wonderful adventure that included getting lost a few times, swimming in the canal, tended my blistered feet (!), communing with nature and being very, very grateful that Ireland has no snakes or other things that could kill you while hiking in the middle of summer through long grass!

The lush green land, gentle sun and mild weather made it a perfect few days.  After arriving at Kildare, rather exhausted from my 50+km walk I spent a couple of days in the hermitages at the lovely Solas Bhride centre, visiting Brigid's sacred well and cathedral, walking the  spiral labyrinth and spending time in quiet contemplation. The women who run this beautiful centre were kindred spirits of sorts and very inspiring for me.

 

Beautiful Inistioge

Beautiful Inistioge

I then hired a car, headed through the pretty countryside visiting lovely towns such as Inistioge in the Nore Valley, and then made my way to Wicklow Mountains. Hiking along the rugged windswept mountains and down to the lakes below was an amazing experience. Lough Tay and Lough Dan were just spectacular! After Wicklow I then headed up to Meath where I stayed in a stone cottage for a couple of days and visited the ancient sacred sites of New Grange and Knowth. Amazing that these stone megalithic tombs are estimated to be 5000 years old, and made before the wheel was even invented.  I was blessed with lovely weather for most of my 10 days in Ireland and this magical trip will always hold a special place in my heart.

 

20170702_084334_resized

At the ICNM Congress

Heading to the busy, big smoke of London was a bit of a shock after rural Ireland! But I soon got my bearings and had a great week there - and was happy to see my sister for a few days, who popped over from her home town of Milan to visit. London highlights included visiting the Chelsea Physic Garden, walks through Hyde Park, seeing the musical Wicked, lots of amazing food and yes, some retail therapy on Oxford Street!  The final weekend was the International Congress on Naturopathic Medicine - which was a great conference attended by over 500 delegates from around the globe.

So all in all I had a wonderful time away and it was a little hard to come back home to work and kids and the general busyness of my life. So I am determined to hold onto the spaciousness that I created and try to find a better work-life balance for myself. Lots of plans were hatched for creating new programmes and various ideas for my future work - which will no doubt unfold over the coming months.  I hope you enjoy the photos and slideshow below!

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

anxiety in kids

Anxiety In Kids

I have been managing some anxiety in my 11 year old son recently, and thought it would be good to explore this important topic of kids and anxiety and how to best support them.

I treat many children in my clinic with anxiety and nervousness and I believe it is very important to deal with anxiety in children, otherwise you often end up with an anxious teenager and then if it remains unaddressed, the anxious adult tends to follow on. Anxiety is a growing issue that plagues many adults and has a big impact on a person's quality of life, choices and behaviours. Thus preventing and managing anxiety in childhood will help a child in their life now but will also give them a brighter and happier future.

roadIt is important to know that at various developmental crossroads throughout childhood, anxiety can be a common feature. But the difference in how children are managed at these juncture points can be vast. It is essential to offer appropriate support for children through the developmental stages they face through childhood. When we meet them in healthy and meaningful ways we ensure that they successfully navigate the journey from childhood to adulthood.

Of course, the first thing that needs to be highlighted is that many anxious kids are the product of anxious adults. If you or your partner has anxiety, you need to be conscious of how much you are contributing to your child’s anxiety. There are links from both a genetic perspective as well as a learned behaviour aspect. Children takes cues about the world directly from their parents, so many of kid&mumthe learned beliefs and programming comes from their parents. If you are wracked with worries and fears and tend to stress about certain things in life then you can be pretty sure your child will worry about the same stuff. The trick is to get support for yourself to better handle your anxiety and also avoid sharing your “stuff” with the kids. Be mindful to keep your own issues to yourself and try to remain calm and centred around your kids. Many adult concepts that children overhear parents talking about or watch on the news are the source of anxiety in kids. They are often too young to fully comprehend many issues and just like when we eat too much or the wrong type food we can’t digest it and we get indigestion, kids can’t digest these experiences and feelings and they tend to come out in other ways physical or emotional. Physical symptoms that manifest from underlying anxiety can include stomach pain, nausea, rashes and headaches as well as behavioural issues.

I have had instances of children in my clinic developing anxiety and fears about things after watching movies, reading books or hearing news stories. An important development crossroad occurs for children between 9-10 years, where they are aware of mortality for the first time and take the first tentative steps into adulthood and start the process of leaving childhood behind.  This can result in a range of feelings and behaviours that can appear contradictory, confusing or exasperating! One minute they are wanting to be independent and all grown up, controlling every choice they can, and the next minute they can behave like a small child being dependent, unreasonable, insecure and needy. This time can be fraught with anxiety and nervousness and children can get worried about death and dying - in either themselves or their parents or loved ones. There is a real perceptible shift in children that occurs here and I find many children present with digestive upsets, insomnia and headaches around this time, which are more psychosomatic in origin.  Being aware of the underlying transitional theme common to this age can normalise it and really help both parents and children manage it better.

While we need to protect our children from adult concepts and our own personal stuff, we also don’t want to fall into the other trap where we protect them from all experiences that are tough. It is very important to not rescue your child from experiencing negative emotions, as much as we might want

Helicopter parentsto as parents! It is hard to see our loved ones suffer, but experiencing all the highs and lows of life, both the good and the bad, builds emotional intelligence and resilience. The modern phenomenon of the hovering “helicopter parent” and “cotton wooling” our kids to protect them is creating children and young adults who are ill equipped to deal with the reality of life. We only learn through experience and we get stronger and wiser when we face trials in life, no matter how big or small.  Even though I am suggesting that we shouldn’t rescue our kids from feeling negative emotions such as sadness, pain or rejection it doesn’t mean we are abandoning them and making them suffer in isolation. We still need to give kids tonnes of love and support and the practical resources and skills to manage difficult situations and cope with the feelings that arise and flow through them. Speaking of flowing, the old adage that emotions or e-motions are just energy in motion is a good one to remember. We only get tripped up by emotions when we don’t allow them to flow and move through us. When we hold onto them and they get stuck, we tend to create more problems for ourselves. Not only do we prolong the suffering but often the negative emotions can end up in the physical body as pain or dysfunction.

It is good to let your child know that no emotion is good or bad, it just is. But what we do with our emotions is the key to a healthy response. I like to use the analogy of the emotional backpack – all the things that happen to us that we don’t process well and hold on to we put in the invisible backpack we carry around.  Over time, this bag gets heavier and heavier and we all know what an adult with a lot of “baggage” looks like!  Try to be empathic, understanding and patient with your child when they are expressing fears and worries. You need to validate their concerns on the one hand while gently reassuring them on the other. Often when supported like this, they find their way to a feeling of peace and calm or they are able to find their own solution to their problems.  This feeling and experience of autonomy and being able to work through emotions is very valuable in building self-esteem and confidence.

sandplayOther creative outlets that involve art, story or play can also be useful for kids to find a non-verbal solution to their problems. Art therapy and sand play therapy are great tools for kids to explore their inner life and emotions without needing to talk. Often the feelings that arise in kids are big and the adults around them expect the child to be able to discuss their feelings. But for many children, they can find it difficult to put their finger on what is wrong and feel ill equipped to understand or be able to verbally discuss things. Through sand play, they can choose from many different symbols by way of figurines to represent the emotions and situations they are struggling with. Adding them to the sand tray and interacting with them tells a valuable story and brings things from the inside out into the light and allows them to be processed more effectively. Kids can easily learn simple breathing and mindfulness strategies that they can use to help manage anxiety and calm down. There are a range of different apps and audios that you can easily download that give specific exercises and creative visualisations for kids with anxiety.

While it is advisable to work mostly with practical and creative tools for kids with anxiety, there may be a place for dietary change and nutritional or herbal supplements. Ensuring a healthy, whole food diet is important to stabilise blood sugar which can aggravate anxiety. Likewise, correcting deficiencies in key nutrients such as magnesium, calcium, B vitamins and zinc is also essential to improve anxiety.  In some cases, we also want to assess children for underlying issues that are causing or aggravating anxiety such as conditions like pyrrole disorders or methylation issues. Herbal medicines and flower essences can also be prescribed in individual cases to help calm children with more moderate or severe anxiety.

Anxiety in children is a problem that is increasing in tandem with the growing rates of anxiety in the adult population. Our lives have become too busy and overloaded and kids are often over scheduled and easily stressed. It is important to create a dynamic at home that offers a haven of peace and calm for our children (and us!) and encourage plenty of time in nature and to explore activities that allow kids to slow down and relax and take time to smell the roses!

If your child is suffering from anxiety, fears or phobias, please bring them in for an assessment so we can give you and them some much needed support. I also have a range of good therapists I refer to for art or sand play therapy when appropriate.

 

SIBO

SIBO

Gut issues are very common in our modern population and according to the Gut Foundation, at least 50% of our population complains of a digestive complaint in any twelve month period. In many respects the health of our gut dictates or reflects the health of our overall body, so sorting out gut issues is very important – to help with everything from mental health to immunity and energy levels.

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is a relatively new digestive disorder on the radar and appears to have increasing prevalence. SIBO is a condition with strong links to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Based on some studies, it is estimated that at least 80% of people with irritable bowel syndrome in fact have SIBO.

So before we dive into look at testing, diagnosing and treating SIBO, lets take a look at the backdrop to the digestive landscape and get the lay of the land.

abdoThe digestive tract mostly comprises of the mouth/oesophagus, the stomach, the small intestine and large intestine or colon and (indirectly the liver, gallbladder and pancreas). Its primary role is to process and breakdown food so that we can use the nutrients for growth, development, repairs and maintenance of our body.

Most of us are aware by now that we need healthy flora (also called the microbiome) in our digestive tract for maintaining health. But the types and location of bacteria in the digestive tract can make the difference between health and disease. For example the bacteria, Helicobacter pylori, in the stomach can contribute to ulcers, while lactobacilli bacteria promote health in the bowel. The small intestine, unlike the large intestine, has only small amounts of bacteria present. The large intestine has approximately one million times more bacteria than the small intestine, and the types and functions of the bacteria in the small intestine differ in some ways to the large.

The small intestine and the bacteria present play an important role in digesting food and absorbing nutrients, protect us from absorbing damaging bacteria or yeasts from our food and thus plays an important part in maintaining a healthy immune system.

tummySo SIBO refers to a condition where the amount of bacteria in the small intestine increases or changes in type and composition. This gives rise to a whole set of symptoms. The bacteria ferment carbohydrates and produce gases such as hydrogen and methane which in turn contribute to symptoms such as bloating after meals, burping and wind, constipation or diarrhea, cramping and nausea. Less obvious symptoms can be experienced outside the digestive tract and show up throughout the body, as nutrient levels are affected, the gut is inflamed and immunity is impaired. Particular conditions which have a strong link to SIBO include food intolerance, allergies, acne rosacea, arthritis, restless legs, liver disease, diabetes, depression and even Parkinson’s Disease has been found to be linked to SIBO.

A range of possible causes have been linked to the development of SIBO. These include prior antibiotic use, previous episodes of food poisoning, viral or bacterial gut bugs, acute or prolonged stress, the oral contraceptive pill, antacid medications, nutrient deficiencies and underlying diseases such as coeliac disease or other autoimmune diseases.

To test for SIBO, a simple home test kit measuring breath gases is an accurate way of identifying bacteria in the small intestine. The sugar lactulose is used after a period of fasting and the gases are collected every 20 mins and can determine if there was a rise. It takes around 2 hours for lactulose to enter the large intestine, so any gases produced from fermenting are the product of the small intestine. If there is a high baseline or a rise in gases during the test period, then a diagnosis of SIBO is likely. The test is not covered under medicare and costs around $200. (I use sibotest.com for the SIBO lactulose breath test.)

Treatment involves a combination of dietary change and antimicrobial treatments to both starve and kill the bacteria present.

Fibre foodsThe FODMAPs diet is often recommended for irritable bowel syndrome and it is thought that the fermentable sugars and carbohydrates contained in these foods are the problem. Avoiding these foods will certainly eliminate or reduce digestive discomfort in many people with IBS. However, when they eat those foods again, the bloating, constipation or diarrhoea often returns. It appears that there is still an underlying cause not being addressed and in my opinion in most cases it is SIBO. The diet alone doesn’t always deal with the bacterial imbalance, although avoiding the foods that the bacteria feed on is a very important part of treatment. The diet to follow during active the SIBO treatment phase is one that is very low in carbohydrates, starches, sugars and dairy to eliminate food supply for the bacteria.

Antimicrobials to kill the abnormal bacteria are also necessary. These can be conventional antibiotics or herbal therapies. These options have been shown to be equally successful for treatment of SIBO.  Herbal antibiotic therapies normally combine a range of different herbs such as wormwood, berberine containing herbs, garlic and certain essential oils. They are rotated over a 2 week period in many cases to reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance. Holistic strategies always include a follow-up phase after active antibiotic treatments. This involves specific probiotics to restore the gut flora, gut repair strategies to help heal the lining of the digestive tract and motility agents.

If you suffer from digestive disturbances such as irritable bowel or inflammatory bowel disease and suspect you have SIBO, then please make an appointment to assess your options. Restoring the health of your gut will improve your health in many diverse ways!

 

 

 

 

healthy heart

A Healthy Heart

With Valentines approaching, we are inundated with messages of romance and heart symbols. So what is the significance of the human heart with emotions and love in particular? On the other hand, from a physical perspective, heart disease is one of the leading causes of chronic illness in the modern world. So what can we do to make our heart healthy and prevent disease and also foster heart intelligence and emotional wellbeing?

I have recently read the most inspiring book about the human heart, called “Human Heart, Cosmic Heart” by American doctor Thomas Cowan. I have always been fascinated with the heart and its role in our health and emotional wellbeing. So much of our common vernacular speaks about the heart as being very connected to our emotions, soul and spirit. Far from being a mere pump that pumps blood around the body, the heart has been regarded for many thousands of years as an organ that has a deeper connection to the subtle aspects of our being and one that is deeply connected to our capacity to express and feel love. The Indian concept of the heart chakra or energy centre is just one example of many traditions that rank highly the quality and importance of our energetic heart space.

When we think about health aspects of the physical heart, the main issues that arise are high blood pressure (hypertension), heart attacks, angina and problems with the rhythmicity of the heart – such as arrhythmias (extra or erratic beats) or rapid beats (tachycardia). A healthy heart beats in a regular and highly coordinated way due to electrical impulses generated in the heart muscle cells that in turn trigger a sequence of organized heart muscle contractions. Most problems to do with irregular beats are caused by abnormalities in the generation or conduction of these electrical impulses.

The nervous system is intricately linked to the heart and it is virtually impossible to discuss the heart without bringing in the nervous system as they work so closely together. When we experience stress, the heart will beat faster and blood pressure will increase to support the increased physical demands on the body. The Heartmath institute in America house a specialized team of scientists dedicated to examining the complex role of the heart and its connection to the brain and nervous system. Through research over the past couple of decades, we now know that the heart responds before the brain has even had time to process a stimulus.  The heart has also been shown to have an intuitive and predictive capacity. It has an electromagnetic field that can essentially read or pick up invisible data such as emotions. It is largely responsible for our ability to sense emotions in others and drives many of our unconscious feelings and instinctive behaviours.

cellsI also recently came across some very interesting research that shows that the heart is able to effectively package up blood and deliver it to specific organs around the body. Each part of the heart tissue correlates to a specific area of the body. By creating different sized or shaped vortices in the red blood cells, the heart is able to send them to specific areas of the body where they are most needed. For example, blood going to the brain has the freshest and newest blood cells. We used to think that blood flowing through our veins was all the same, but we now know that it is in fact different and specialized for different parts of the body. What an amazing capacity our strongest and hardest working muscle, the heart, has!

So what does out heart need in order to stay healthy? Pretty simple in many ways – eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise and manage your stress and lifestyle! Oh and don’t forget, although most people should know already, that avoiding smoking is one of the single most important things to do for a healthy heart.

fatThe role of diet in heart disease has been well known for many years. Originally fat was considered the culprit in heart disease, but research has now proven that sugar and refined carbohydrates are the real culprits. Fat and cholesterol have been unfairly demonized for too long. Cholesterol is in fact an important nutrient - being part of every cell in the body and an important precursor for a range of hormones and vitamin D.  Approximately 80% of cholesterol in your body is actually made by your liver (that is how important it is!) with dietary intakes only accounting for around 20% of your supply. The cholesterol issue is more complex than just looking at your levels or examining the good (HDL) versus bad (LDL) levels. In fact oxidised (rancid) cholesterol is the real problem as it promotes inflammation and free radical damage. There are tests we can now do that measure the amount of oxidized cholesterol you have – which is a better marker for heart disease risk.

But sugar is perhaps the more sinister demon that sneaks into our diet in obvious and less obvious ways. Sugar increases inflammation and can damage the blood vessels promoting hardening of the arteries. Hardening of the arteries can reduce flexibility of the blood vessels and increase blood pressure. Controlling blood pressure is one of the most important things you can do to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system and prevent heart attacks. To learn more specifically about blood pressure you can read my article here.

So we have busted the myth on fat, but what other nutritional guidelines should we follow? There is no one best diet for the heart – there are many cultures around the world with low heart disease rates but widely different diets. The Mediterranean diet for instance, has been well studied for decreasing many chronic diseases including heart disease. This diet is rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, legumes, fish, eggs, smaller amounts of meat and poultry and plenty of healthy fats in the way of olive oil and nuts. But realistically any diet that has a strong focus on nutrient dense whole foods, one that is high in vegetable intake and very low in processed foods such as sugars, white flour products, artificial additives and hydrogenated oils, is going to be good for the heart.

manExercise is another important key to heart and vascular health. Helping to keep us fit, energetic and to maintain normal body weight, exercise also keeps our blood pressure stable and improves circulation. Choose something that combines strength training with aerobic fitness. But more importantly, choose something you love! If running isn’t your thing, then try simple walking. Brisk walking was shown to be just as beneficial as running in a long term study on heart disease risk.

Lastly stress management could in fact be the most important part of having a healthy heart and avoiding heart attacks! Did you know, that more heart attacks occur on a Monday morning than any other time? This "Monday cardiac phenomenon" is believed to be related to work stress. Stress hormones are not meant to be persistently elevated in the body and have been found to cause widespread damage and can even change the way the blood clots. To read more about stress and its role on the heart, check out my other article on stress, the nervous system and the heart.

So all in all, our wonderful hearts need to be loved and appreciated for all they do. Beating over and over without any conscious input from us, they keep our whole body healthy and nourished with life giving blood, they manage our higher capacities for intuitive wisdom and they house our spiritual centre. Maybe give your heart a valentine’s day gift from yourself this year, in love and gratitude for all its tireless efforts!

giving

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”)

Garlic

garlic-picWe just harvested our garlic crop. It is always great to pull up the garlic heads after their six month gestation period over the cooler months. Organic garlic is a wonderful addition to both the kitchen and the medicine cabinet! 

Garlic is rich in a range of sulphur compounds, which are thought to be responsible for its flavor and aroma. One of the main medicinal agents from garlic is the substance known as allicin. But interestingly, allicin is not found in its natural state in garlic. Allicin is actually formed from the coming together of two compounds that garlic contains, called alliinase and alliin. When the enzyme allinase reacts with the compound alliin — which happens when garlic is chopped, minced or crushed  — they form the special compound known as allicin. The reaction happens very quickly and the allicin that is produced is what gives garlic it’s distinctive smell and flavour.

Allicin is a great therapeutic agent and has been found to be effective as a natural antibiotic and anticancer agent and it can also help cardiovascular health - in particular will help to lower cholesterol, reduce blood sugar and high blood pressure. I often prescribe garlic as an antimicrobial agent in my treatment of digestive issues, particularly SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) and it is also great for colds, sinus and chest infections and as a natural antiseptic.

Unfortunately when garlic is cooked, the allicin is destroyed, so it is best to eat it raw, freshly crushed and left to sit for 10 mins or so to get the best medicine. The best way to simultaneously peel and crush garlic is to use a heavy knife blade and bash it hard. The garlic shell will easily come free and the garlic can be chopped or smashed with the back of the knife.

garlic-smash

garlic-crush

Crush garlic and leave for 5-10 mins to maximise the allicin content

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course garlic still tastes great in cooking when it is roasted or braised, we just don't get the medicinal benefit. You can crush some garlic and mix with herbs and butter to make a nice final addition to everything from steamed veggies to soups, pastas or served on top of a steak. Garlic can be added to pine nuts or cashew nuts and blended with basil and olive oil to make a delicious super food pesto dip.

For sore throats or cough crushed garlic can be mixed with honey and taken as a sweet syrup medicine.

Make sure you source organic garlic when buying garlic as much of the imported garlic comes from China and it is treated with bleaching agents, antifungals and other chemicals that prevent sprouting. Methyl bromide is one such chemical routinely used in garlic harvesting and production and this is a highly toxic agent that can impact on the respiratory and nervous systems. Imported garlic tends to have much less flavour as well!

parsley

Parsley is a great cure for garlic breath!

 

Lastly, what's an article on garlic if you don't mention garlic breath!?  There are many folk cures to help with garlic odour and garlic breath. I find using a lemon and bicarb soda is a good way to take the smell off the hands.  Some good cures for garlic breath include chewing on parsley or sucking a lemon wedge. However eating an apple or drinking green or peppermint tea can also be a good idea. These all contain substances called polyphenols which can inactivate the sulphur compounds that contribute to garlic's odour.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Europe highlights

Europe Adventures

I had a wonderful time - with both work and holiday adventures during my month in Europe! As always I am amazed at the number of herbs growing wild in Europe, which I have captured in photos as well as food and family fun. I hope you enjoy sharing in my little slideshow of highlights!

 

 

natural migraine prevention

Natural Migraine Prevention

Headaches are very common and can be caused by a host of things.  Dehydration, stress, tension and hormone changes are the most frequent causes of headaches. While headaches are bothersome, migraines are debilitating.

Women are 2-3 times more likely to suffer migraine than men.

Women are 2-3 times more likely to suffer migraine than men.

Migraines are very different to classic headaches, effecting around 7 percent of men and 15 percent of women. A migraine is more than just a headache. It is intensely painful and has distinct phases, commonly included a ‘prodrome’ where sufferers get pre-headache symptoms.  The prodrome may include visual auras such as blurred vision, seeing double, seeing shimmering colours or zig zags and sensitivity to light.  Other accompanying features of migraines include lethargy, mood changes, sensitivity to smells, nausea and vomiting.  Conventional analgesics rarely bring any relief to migraine patients. Female migraine sufferers who get a visual aura are also more likely to suffer from strokes, but this association was stronger for women who were also taking the pill, had high blood pressure or smoked.

Some of the most commonly reported triggers for migraines are:

Dehydration

Low blood sugar / hunger or skipping meals: a sharp change in blood sugar can stimulate migraines.

Processed foods can be a major trigger for migraine.

Food and Drink: including sugar, chocolate, preservatives, artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, additives (including MSG), and amines found in processed meats, cheese and wine.

Hormones:  Women often get migraines when there is a change in the level of oestrogen - such as before or during their periods, with menopause, or whilst taking the pill or HRT.

Changes in sleeping cycle: Both missing sleep and oversleeping can trigger a migraine.

Stress: Any kind of emotional trauma can set off a migraine, even after the stress has passed.

Physical exertion: Intense exercise can trigger migraines.

Environmental: Bright lights, fluorescent lights, loud noises and strong smells can trigger a migraine.

Weather changes & seasonal changes

 

Migraines were initially considered to be a problem with the vascular system – where constriction of the blood vessels caused visual auras and then vessel dilatation followed, causing the headache and pain.  While the vascular cause has been the theory for many years, recent research has revealed migraines to be neurological in origin.  Specifically, migraines are now understood to be related to malfunction of nerve cell activity in the brain. What activates the malfunctioning of the nerves causing a migraine, however, is still unknown but may involve genetics.

 

The evolution of a migraine starts with an individual trigger. When your brain perceives the trigger, it brainpainbegins a cascade of events and a headache will start developing within two hours or two days. Initially blood vessels in your forehead enlarge and this puts pressure on neighbouring nerve fibers which in turn release chemicals that cause pain and inflammation.  The inflammation sets in motion a vicious cycle which cause increased swelling and more pain. After an hour or two, the nerve pathways are all sensitised from this chain-reaction process and fire off impulses throughout the head, the base of the neck and spine. This means for the migraine sufferer, everything starts hurting as the pain-nerve cells are stuck in the "on" position and any stimulation hurts - even light, smells and gentle touch or movement.

 

Drugs which have been developed for other diseases such as hypertension, depression and epilepsy have been traditionally used to prevent migraines in about half of migraine patients. But they are only effective 50 percent of the time and have serious side effects.  The discovery of a new cause of migraines has fuelled the development of new drugs such as ones that prevent brain cell impulse transmission.

 

Fortunately, there are some natural migraine prevention strategies to avoid and treat migraines if you wish to avoid pharmaceutical drugs.  Preventing migraines starts with identifying your personal triggers and then trying where possible to avoid them. Keeping a diary of activities, diet and migraine occurrence can help to identify individual triggers for migraine.

rest

Relaxation and stress management are key factors in migraine prevention.

Keeping well hydrated with water (not coffee, alcohol or soft drinks!) and eating healthy, whole foods and avoiding refined sugars and processed foods is essential. I always find that supporting good digestion and liver function is a key part of treatment. Also managing your lifestyle and stress levels is very important. It may be a good idea to take up a practice that fits with your personal beliefs or activities - such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness or contemplative prayer to help manage and reduce the impact of stress in your life. It is also highly beneficial to maintain a regular routine of sleep and exercise.  Techniques such as acupuncture, massage, chiropractic and osteopathy can help to realign the nervous system and may also help to prevent and treat migraines.

 

Feverfew is a herb well known for treating migraines.

Feverfew is a herb well known for treating migraines.

The herb Feverfew can be used for the natural prevention of migraines. There has been quite a bit of research on this herb, some of it has shown it to be effective in both the prevention of migraines and reducing pain.  Ginkgo is another herb, known for its tonic effects on the brain. Generally herbs work best in combination and when prescribed for each individual and their triggers. For example if stress and anxiety is a major factor for you or hormonal imbalance is a trigger, then specific herbs can be prescribed to directly deal with these issues and thereby reduce the potential impact of these on your migraines. In terms of nutritional supplements, research has also shown that B vitamins (especially riboflavin), fish oils, coQ10 and magnesium are useful for migraine prevention with these nutrients having natural anti-inflammatory and relaxant effects.

 

Simple techniques such as massage, cold packs and deep breathing can all relieve pain.  Many migraine sufferers only get relief through sleep, so when all else fails, hop into bed in a dark room and try to get to sleep. Usually when we have identified the triggers and implemented a treatment plan, most patients experience improvements in both frequency and intensity of migraines.

Lastly, an interesting study has found that the scent of green apples can significantly relieve migraine pain. So next time you have a migraine, cut a green apple, smell it and see if it works!

 

 

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.

 

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To me Karen is an absolute angel! I highly recommend Karen to anyone who is going through the whole ‘roller coaster’ journey of IVF. It was so lovely to actually have someone that actually listened to me, it was in 2010 when we decided we would give IVF one last go before having a break. Karen put me on a super tonic which I call her ‘magic potion’ and after a few weeks in taking this my FSH levels dropped dramatically and this was my lucky month and my dream had finally came true. I always feel so positive every time I leave Karen’s rooms, I’m so glad that I found her I can never thank her enough for my positive out come!
Megan Wolarczuk
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