Women’s health issues

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

Adrenal Health

Adrenal Health

suprarenalThe adrenal glands are small glands that sit like a hat on top of the kidneys. They are powerful little endocrine glands that manufacture and secrete steroid hormones such as cortisol, DHEA (which in turn can be made into oestrogen and testosterone) as well as adrenalin (sometimes called epinephrine). 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.  They 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. The adrenal hormones closely modulate many metabolic processes in the body:

  • the utilization of carbohydrates and fats
  • reproductive function and fertility
  • the conversion of fats and proteins into energy
  • bone density and muscle mass
  • inflammation and immune function
  • the distribution of stored fat  – especially around your waist
  • normal blood sugar regulation
  • proper cardiovascular function
  • gastrointestinal function and digestion

 

Some of the signs that your adrenals are struggling include:

stressENERGY & MOOD

  • low energy, tired all the time
  • up and down or erratic energy
  • tired but wired feeling
  • irritable, easily angered, cranky
  • depressed, sad, teary, anxious

SLEEP

  • poor sleep, waking often, insomnia, night sweats
  • increased need for sleep, excessive sleep
  • waking unrefreshed and tired in the morning

IMMUNE

  • recurrent illness (colds, flu, sinusitis)
  • take a long time to recover from simple disorder
  • chronic & autoimmune conditions like eczema, arthritis & allergies.

obesityDIGESTION, WEIGHT & BODY COMPLAINTS

  • headaches and migraines
  • craving sugar or caffeine
  • weight gain (especially around belly), difficulty losing weight,
  • digestive problems (irritable bowel, nausea)
  • muscle tension and pain
  • chest pain, difficulty breathing

Stress and Adrenal Function

It is important to understand the role of stress and how it influences adrenal function when we are looking at improving the function of the adrenals and optimizing energy and vitality.

The body has an inbuilt survival mechanism which allows us to mobilize its resources to escape or fight off danger and survive. The fight or flight response is a well known cascade of physiological effects that harness energy and strength to enable us to survive. While we may have evolved dealing with real life threatening situations (such as escaping from a wild animal or enemy clan) our bodily response to modern day stresses are the same. We don’t differentiate very well between true life threatening stress and mere emotional stress, because the part of our brain that responds to stress needs to act quickly and automatically. Taking time to consider the options and engage the rational mind, may delay actions that could be costly or deadly.

tired business manModern life for many of us is fraught with constant low grade stress. Even being available and switched ‘on’ 24/7 can often give us a feeling of mild stress. We are always anticipating the next thing to do or the next stress to deal with. Common stresses that I see amongst my patients include work dissatisfaction, a difficult boss, financial stress, relationship dramas and parenting demands. Then we also have the issues of environmental stress such as air pollution, electromagnetic radiation and chemicals in food and water. The stresses in turn can lead to a variety of physical and psychological health problems that can themselves be a further source of stress.

It is also the job of the adrenal glands to keep our body’s reactions to stress in balance so that they are appropriate and not destructive. Cortisol has a protective anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant activity that can help to minimize the inflammatory reactions in allergies and autoimmune disorders.

Adrenals & Reproductive Function

The adrenals are also responsible for producing DHEA which is a precursor to oestrogen and testosterone and thus have a role in reproductive function. Prolonged stress is a well known cause of reproductive dysfunction and in women can lead to delayed or lack of ovulation, erratic cycles or heavier periods.  In men, chronic or acute stress can impact on hormones and lead to lowered sperm count and poor libido in men. After mid-life when the ovaries and testes start to decline in function, the adrenal glands gradually become the major source of the sex hormones circulating throughout the body in both men and women. These hormones themselves have a whole host of physical, emotional and psychological effects, from the level of your sex drive to the tendency to gain weight. Thus, I find in my patients that the function and integrity of the adrenal glands is an important predictor of how easy or trouble free a woman's experience of menopause will be.

Stress Management – the key to healthy adrenals

corporate yoga womanLearning to manage our stress is essential for health and wellbeing on all levels. Much of what I do with many of my patients is help them make choices and create strategies that can moderate their stress. We go through all the events or situations which contribute to their stress load and identify the things that they can change in a practical sense. In some cases, even just changing our attitude or perception of situations can help decrease the effect of these stresses on our health and wellbeing.

Generally I find the two best strategies for managing life’s inevitable stresses are exercise and relaxation/meditation.  Some people find one is enough, but most people will benefit from doing both. In terms of exercise, though,  I want to emphasize that it is important to not overdo it. While many of us use exercise as a stress management tool, sometime it can add more pressure and physiological demands on our system. Many patients I have treated for adrenal fatigue and burnout have been over-exercising. Once they slowed down and did more gentle approaches, they started to improve.

I am a big fan of having a daily practice of some kind, such as meditation, yoga or breathing. Having a regular activity that allows us to pause and get perspective can make a big difference in how we feel and cope with stressful events. Learn more about managing stress with specific meditation and breathing tools I can teach you here.

 

Herbs & Nutrients for Adrenal Health

The first thing to know when it comes to supporting your adrenals is to ensure you choose foods and eating patterns that stabilize your blood sugar. Skipping meals or eating high carbohydrate or sugar laden foods will put more pressure on your adrenals (as well as your liver and pancreas!) Choosing regular meal times and ensuring there is a good quality protein (think eggs, nuts, seeds, dairy, meat/fish) at each meal. Protein and good quality fats will create a stable slow burning energy and avoid blood sugar swings. It is also good to avoid caffeine which can be too stimulating on worn out adrenals. There are a range of nutrients that can support optimal adrenal function and energy and normally I prescribe specific supplements designed to support the adrenal glands, that often include B vitamins, zinc, amino acids etc. You can learn more about foods and how they support energy here.

Holy Basil - a great herb for supporting the adrenals.

Holy Basil - a great herb for supporting the adrenals.

Herbs that support adrenal health are normally referred to as adrenal tonics or adaptogens. Kidney herbs can also be useful for supporting the adrenals. Some of my favourite adrenal herbs include Rhodiola, Withania, Siberian Ginseng, Licorice, Oats and Holy Basil. These herbs can help support our body to adapt and better cope with stress and promote good levels of energy. Generally speaking these types of herbs are taken for a period of at least 6-8 weeks and often for a number of months to get the best results in building resilience, conserving energy and preventing burnout during stressful or demanding periods.

 

So in summary, having well functioning adrenals is essential for optimal health. Take time to look after yourself, make healthy food choices, get regular exercise and manage your stress and you will be rewarded with healthy adrenals which will flow on and impact the rest of your body, mind and spirit!

 

ants

Do you have a problem with ANTs?

While the little black insects can be a real problem, the other kind of ant is far more damaging. Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) are a common problem for people, often working behind the scenes to make us feel stressed, unworthy or anxious, more than we realise.

negative-thinking-patterns-fullOur thoughts control how we feel about ourselves and the world around us. Whether our thoughts are positive or negative will dictate how we feel and often how we act. Positive thoughts generally lead to us feeling good, while negative thoughts tend to put us down and make us feel sad, anxious or overwhelmed. Sometimes our thoughts happen so quickly that we fail to notice them, but they can still affect our mood. These are called automatic thoughts, because they happen as if on auto-pilot and tend to be spontaneous. In many cases automatic thoughts are negative and irrational and tend to exacerbate pre-existing anxiety and fears.

ANTs have the following features:

  • They are not realistic or logical
  • They arise spontaneously with little conscious control
  • They increase negative feelings such as anxiety, low self-esteem and stress
  • The are self-defeating and persistent

viciouscircle1

While it can be useful to notice and replace a negative thought with a new rational or more positive thought, it may only touch the surface. It is true that changing negative thoughts to more positive affirmations will often improve our mood and make us feel better. However, moving beyond identifying negative automatic thoughts and learning more about the beliefs and programming that dictate them is a much deeper way of healing and resolving this issue.

timeout natureFor many people with health issues that are chronic or challenging, it is very common for their thoughts, beliefs and feelings to accentuate their health problems and create a no-win situation. By not being able to imagine ourselves having achieved our goal of being healed, pregnant, happy, pain free etc, we essentially lock in place our current situation. In many cases, just by breaking the lock on the chain that binds us to our thinking, our body is free to get on with healing or creating the change that we are truly seeking. It is a case of changing the commonly held notion of " I will believe it when I see it" to "I will see it when I believe it!"

A range of mind-body techniques can be employed to resolve the emotional imprint or past experience that caused the negative thought to occur in the first place and to also continue to recur.  Quantum Emotional Healing and Psych-K are two modalities that I have trained in and find useful. Creating a vision and goal for how you would like your life to be different - whether it be health or personal life and then working with the realm of beliefs or past emotional experiences can help to release old patterns and send ANTs packing.  To learn more about my mind-body counselling services or to make a booking, please see this page.

 

whether-you-think-you-can

Preconception Care

Preconception Care

The term ‘preconception care’ can be defined as optimising health prior to attempting conception in the hope that a couple will conceive easily and attain a healthy pregnancy and birth.

This idea has been part of a holistic approach to happy couplereproductive health for many years but has been gaining popularity in mainstream medical circles of late. By addressing a range of lifestyle issues in the preconception timeframe we not only can help couples conceive more easily but also help them have a healthy baby in the long term. It takes around 3-4 months for the egg and sperm to fully develop and mature, so it makes sense that changes need to be undertaken before planning conception.

There is greater need for preconception care today than ever before, given such things as inadequate diets, a polluted environment and our often stressful lifestyles. Moreover, as many as 50% of couples who conceive report an unplanned pregnancy. Thus the preconception period is crucial to reducing many of the risks of birth defects and premature birth. Nearly 85 percent of women receive early prenatal care, which can improve maternal and infant health. However, even early prenatal care may be too late to make a difference in some cases. Some interventions work best, and others only work, if they begin before pregnancy.

Nutritional Factors

More and more research has shown the importance of key nutrients in preventing birth defects and pregnancy complications. Good nutrition is essential during the preconception period and beyond. Nutritional supplements are often required for certain nutrients which are often lacking in the modern diet and essential to the healthy habitshealth of your developing baby. Folate is one essential nutrient that we have known can prevent a range of birth defects such as spina bifida if taken during preconception and early pregnancy. Recent research has found that taking folate before pregnancy also results in a 25% reduction in the risk of having a low birthweight infant. Babies who are small for gestational age have poorer outcomes in the short term and long term and until recently there was no known preventative strategies.

However, besides folate there are a host of other nutrients that are equally important to the health and development of the foetus that may be necessary to supplement with.  These can include activated B vitamins, vitamin E, Vitamin C, iodine and omega 3 fatty acids. The best approach to preconception nutrition is to have a personalised consultation with a naturopath or nutritionist. This will provide you with a specific diet and supplement plan to suit your unique needs - taking into account your background health, age and other environmental or occupational factors that may enhance your need for certain nutrients.

wine couplesCaffeine should be avoided as it has been linked to infertility and impaired foetal brain development as well as decreasing iron absorption.

Alcohol should also be avoided as it increases the risk of miscarriage & failure to thrive as well as lowering sperm count and quality. Alcohol also decreases absorption of B vitamins & increases the excretion of magnesium & zinc, all of which are essential for optimal fertility.

Lifestyle Factors

Smoking, drugs and alcohol are detrimental across the board - to fertility, pregnancy outcomes and infant health. While much of the focus on preconception care has been aimed at women, researchers are also becoming increasingly aware occupational hazardsthat a man's health at the time of conception has an impact on the baby's health. A child born to a male smoker is four times more likely to have cancer in childhood. Moderate alcohol intake of 1-5 drinks per week increases the risk of fertility problems and miscarriage in women and fertility problems and sperm DNA damage in men. Men working in occupations that have environmental risk factors such as exposure to chemicals, heavy metals or radiation need to receive additional support to detox these hazards and improve sperm quality.

As many as 40-50% of the adult population are considered overweight or obese. Overweight women have a 2-5 fold increase in fertility issues and higher miscarriage rates. Weight reduction by as little as 5-10% can improve pregnancy rates and outcomes.   Overweight men also suffer lower fertility and erectile dysfunction.

 

Getting Expert Advice

Having a consultation as a couple with a naturopath specialising in fertility is a good idea. They can assess your diet and lifestyle and advise on any individual changes necessary and prescribe appropriate nutrients. If there are any couple consultunderlying health issues for either partner relating to reproductive health such as poor sperm count or specific gynaecological conditions, a holistic approach may include herbal and nutritional remedies to improve chances of conception including couples on IVF. A collaborative approach can be very beneficial when both doctors and naturopaths can work together to achieve the best outcomes.

Getting support and inspiration to make healthy changes to your diet and lifestyle can have far reaching impacts on your fertility and general health, now and in the future!

 

 

 

Self Care at Christmas

Self Care At Christmas

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

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

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

Giving and Receiving

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

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

Self Care in Action

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

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

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

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

Karen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feminine Hygiene

Feminine Hygiene Products & Your Health

tamponsWe are all aware of the widespread use of personal care products that many women and some men use daily. These range from shampoo, conditioner and other hair styling products to facial and body washes, moisturisers, makeup and deodorants. In addition, there are, of course, the other much more personal, personal care products that women use. These are things like tampons, pads, vaginal douches and feminine wipes. There has been growing concern in recent years about the chemicals used in these products and their potential negative impact on women’s health.

As a naturopath who specializes in women’s health, I am regularly advising women about the potential for everyday household products to contain hidden chemicals that can negatively affect their reproductive health, hormones and fertility. Many of the feminine hygiene products used by women are also sources of such hidden chemicals. The problem is that many of these products get up close and personal with the highly sensitive and highly absorptive female genitalia. This delicate area is filled with an enormous array of blood and lymphatic vessels, which means chemicals absorbed "down there" go straight into your circulatory system.

In fact, because of this highly absorptive nature of the vaginal wall, researchers are constantly researching new vaginal pessaries and creams as novel modes of drug delivery. Because of the many arteries, blood vessels and lymphatic vessels abundant in the walls of the vagina, drugs absorbed from the vagina do not undergo first-pass metabolism (that occurs with oral tablets in the digestive system) because blood leaving the vagina enters straight into circulatory system via a rich venous route. absorption

So, while these facts make it easy for drug companies to exploit the vagina as a mode of drug delivery for prescribed drugs, women are essentially getting a dose of unwanted and potentially harmful chemicals whenever they use many of the mainstream feminine hygiene products. These products sit against or near to the extremely permeable mucous membranes in the vulvar and vaginal area that readily absorb whatever chemicals are found in the products women use.

There has been a concerted push in recent years amongst women’s health groups for more research into the health effects of these chemical exposures on women's health, given the widespread use of these products. Many of the products do not list fragrances or the chemicals found in them (as government guidelines do not require it), so women are further left in the dark about potential ill effects.

Here is a list of the common chemicals found in different feminine hygiene products and the potential health impacts related to them:

Tampons
  • Possible Hazardous Ingredients: Dioxins and furans (from the chlorine bleaching process), pesticide residues (non-organic cotton/rayon), and unknown fragrance chemicals.
  • Health Concerns: Cancer, reproductive harm, endocrine disruption (can lead to heavier periods and reproductive disorders), and allergic rash
 Pads
  • Possible Hazardous Ingredients: Dioxins and furans, pesticide residues, unknown fragrance chemicals, and adhesive chemicals such as methyldibromo glutaronitrile
  • Health Concerns: Cancer, reproductive harm, infertility, endocrine disruption, and allergic rash
Feminine Wipes
  • Possible Hazardous Ingredients: Methylchloroisothiazolinone, methylisothiazolinone, parabens, quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, and many unknown fragrance chemicals.
  • Health Concerns: Cancer, endocrine disruption, skin allergens allergic rash
Feminine Wash

Many feminine washes contain a host of chemicals including fragrances and toxic preservatives like parabens, that are known to play havoc with your hormones.

  • Possible Hazardous Ingredients: Unknown fragrance chemicals, parabens, methylchloroisothiazolinone, methylisothiazolinone, DMDM hydantoin, D&C Red #33, Ext. D&C Violet #2, and FD&C Yellow #5
  • Health Concerns: Hormone disruption and reproductive issues, allergic rash, and asthma

 

 

It is good news to know that one solution to this complex problem is rather easy, as there are some great environmentally savvy companies creating alternatives to the mainstream products. Organic tampons and pads are now more widely available and offer a healthy alternative for both women and the environment. Pads-1Moreover, silicon menstrual cups are also becoming more popular and are a safe alternative to tampons. Reusable cloth pads are also available and have been popular with some women for years. The design and function of these have come a long way since the old days of our grandmothers!

In terms of wipes and washes, there are eco-friendly wipes that can be used (even some for babies are appropriate). However, normal hygiene really should suffice and women should not feel the need to use chemical fragrances in their delicate genital area.

So wise up women folk and start taking care of yourself by making smart and healthy choices in this very important area!

 

Here are some links to companies providing more information or healthy and eco-friendly alternatives:

 

 

Coping With Motherhood

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Birth Interventions

 

Did you know that birth interventions are a growing problem in most countries? Caesarean births are as high as 50% in many Australian private hospitals and around 30% of births in Australia are now by caesarean. Given that the World Health Organisation state that caesareans should normally only be around 10-12% researchers are looking for reasons why.

c-section-1

Why The Excess Intervention?

Epidurals are now in the spotlight as they have been shown to lead to prolonged second stage labour and women often end up with so-called 'emergency' caesareans. Approximately 30-50% of Australian women have epidurals during birth - the rates depend on the woman's age, place of birth and whether a woman has already given birth before.  A recent study found that an epidural actually prolongs labour for more than 2 hours - and almost 3 hours for women who have previously given birth.  The normal perceived time line for epidurals is only 1 hour, which means that many normally progressing women are misdiagnosed as failure to progress or abnormal labour - which leads to intervention.

The classic 'cascade of intervention' often starts with induction of labour, whereby a birth is artificially started with a drug called syntocin. Mimicking the action of the birth hormone oxytocin, syntocin stimulates uterine contractions. Unlike natural release of oxytocin, which is regulated by the body, a syntocin drip may not provide the correct amount. For many women, artificial induction or augmentation increases pain, requiring an epidural which further interferes with the natural birthing environment. Epidurals prolong labour and interfere with the ability for a woman to read her body's signs and signals of birth. Artificial induction and prolonged labour quite commonly lead to distress in the baby and in turn an emergency caesarean is usually the next step in intervention.

birthcostsThe Many Costs

The cost of birth interventions including caesareans in terms of the financial public health burden is massive. The WHO estimate that the cost of the global “excess” in c-sections was estimated to be a massive US$2.32 billion, while the cost of the global “needed” c-sections were around US$ 432 million. (WHO 2010)

Not surprisingly, women giving birth in private hospitals have a higher risk of birth interventions.  One study looked at low-risk Australian women having their first birth in either private or public hospitals. For women giving birth in private hospitals only 15 per 100 women had a vaginal birth with no obstetric intervention compared to 35 per 100 women giving birth in a public hospital.

While it is easy to estimate the financial cost of excess c-sections, the emotional and health costs for both the mother and baby are harder to quantify.  There have been many studies looking at the immediate and long term impacts of birth intervention. Postnatal depression rates are higher in women who have had birth intervention and there are lower breastfeeding rates also linked to birth intervention. Also for every caesarean a woman has, her likelihood for additional caesareans in subsequent births is markedly elevated. The risk of uterine rupture and hysterectomy following caesareans increases to 1 in 1200 in women who have had 2 or more caesareans. This can be a shock for women who did not anticipate that their fertility would end following what seemed to be a 'normal' birth option. This is a stark contrast to 1 in 30,000 risk of hysterectomy during birth for women giving birth vaginally.

For the baby, allergies are more common following a caesarean birth as the baby does not have the benefit of the vaginal flora of the mother which occurs during the normal descent through the birth canal. Breastfeeding initiation and duration is also compromised with birth intervention, which further puts the infant at a disadvantage.

newborn2While clearly some births end up in intervention due to unavoidable complications, our birthing culture has become such that for many women interventions have become the norm, rather than the exception.  Conversely, the benefits of having a natural birth are many and varied.  Preparing for birth well with healthy nutrition and lifestyle choices, having continuity of care with a midwife and having birth support with a known midwife or doula are all factors that have be linked to enhanced outcomes for the mother and baby.

I am pleased to provide comprehensive natural and holistic support for women through pregnancy, birth and the post-natal period.  Alongside diet, exercise, relaxation and lifestyle advice I also offer personalised prescriptions of safe and effective natural supplements, herbs and homoeopathic birth kits for labour.

For more information and local resources for preparing for birth naturally please click on the links below:

 

 

 

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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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