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Stress and weight gain

Stress and Weight Gain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next month, September 7th,  I am offering a Mind-Body Workshop which will give you lots of tools for managing stress, supporting your adrenals and overcoming other health issues  – everything from weight loss, hormonal imbalance, immune dysfunction and cancer to digestive issues, heart disease, depression/anxiety and everything in between! Stress impacts on pretty much everything and effectively managing stress and creating a positive mind set is a fundamental basic tool for optimal health and wellbeing.  Click here to learn more about the workshop and book your spot!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Green tea

Green Tea - Camellia sinensis

tea

Green tea is a popular health promoting tea, enjoyed all over the world.

Black, Oolong and Green tea all stem from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, however differences in processing results in three very distinct products not only in taste but also in health benefits. Green tea is the least processed and therefore isn’t exposed to oxidation, resulting in a tea that retains more antioxidants. The specific antoxidants found in green tea include catechin, epicatechin, epicatechin gallate, epigallocatechin gallate and proanthocyanidins.

In different parts of Asia, the tea is harvested at different times according to tradition. In Japan, only one cultivar of Camellia sinensis is used, the Yabukita variety, and the leaves are harvested any time from late spring all the way through until autumn - giving the leaves more time to grow on the plant.  In contast, in China, many varieties are used and the green tea is only harvested in the early spring, meaning the leaves have less time to grow. Not only the leaves are plucked, but in China the spring buds of the plants are also harvested. The Chinese method of drying the leaves uses a pan to dry fire them, or they might be oven dried or dried under the sun. The tea is then hand processed with workers rolling the tea leaves into shapes - such as balls, twists, spirals and swords.  Green tea is traditionally only brewed for 2-3 minutes and if you leave it longer it can be quite bitter and higher in the astringent tannins.

Genmaicha - Japanese green tea with roasted rice

Genmaicha - Japanese green tea with roasted rice

Some Japanese Green Tea can also contain twigs and roasted puffed rice along with the green tea, the popular variety is referred to as Genmaicha. Kyoto was the birthplace of genmaicha, where legend tells of a tea farmer who mixed roasted brown rice (as a filler) in with his cheapest blends of green tea so that even poor people could afford to buy his tea, and get some extra nutrients along with the tea. Genmaicha has a milder nutty flavour combining the fresh grassy flavor of green tea with the aroma of the roasted rice and it became a popular brew in time. Tea steeped from genmaicha has a light yellow hue and It is traditionally brewed for 3-5 minutes.

What it’s good for

Anti-Ageing

Green tea contains a potent range of antioxidants responsible for fighting a prime culprit in the ageing process; free radicals. Epigallocatechin gallate, a green tea polyphenol now incorporated into many skin care formulations, has been shown to reduce damage done to skin cells and is proported to offer antioxidant protection against mild sun exposure. To learn more about natural sunscreens, includling a recipe that includes green tea in it, please click here.

Cancer

Green tea has been shown in several studies to decrease proliferation of cancer cells and it can also increase apoptosis, which is what we call the highly regulated process of inbuilt cell death. Many cancer cells lose their innate programming for cell death and thus keep growing and spreading. Agents that can stimulate this process of apoptosis can lead to reduced cancer cell numbers. Epigallocatechin gallate was found to reduce the risk of skin cancer through its protection against UV radiation. Topical application of green tea half an hour before skin exposure was shown to be protective against sunburn. Systematic scientific studies and research suggest green tea possesses protective capabilities against breast, prostate and upper gastrointestinal tract cancers.

Weight Loss

Green tea consumption has been associated in several studies with moderate weight loss, reduced weight circumference and metabolic parameter improvements when combined with regular exercise. Animal studies found this weight loss to be due to decreased leptin (dubbed the obesity hormone), decreased food intake and an increase in metabolic rate due to increased thermogenesis. Green tea also contains caffeine which has a subtle stimulating impact on weight loss, but usually not strong enough on its own to exert much impact.

Memory and Mood
Matcha powder is rich in L-theanine, an amino acid that is good for anxiety and stress.

Matcha powder is rich in L-theanine, an amino acid that is good for anxiety and stress.

Green tea intake has been shown to significantly improve cognitive performance and learning ability with long-term consumption. This is thought to be due to a combination of improved cerebral blood flow and the neuro-protective effects of L-theanine, a compound found in green tea. L-theanine exerts this action through modulation of our neurotransmitters GABA and glutamate. Despite these neurotransmitters being cut from the same cloth, GABA and glutamate have opposing effects in the body. Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter and is often released by the body in times of stress. GABA on the other hand is an inhibitory neurotransmitter and when released has a calming effect on the body. L-theanine works by blocking the glutamate pathway, in turn increasing GABA. Incorporating green tea into your diet is a nice way to gently reduce the effects of glutamate but for those suffering from anxiety and stress a supplemental dose of L-theanine would be more beneficial. I have found using an actual capsule of concentrated  L-theanine can be an effective supplement for anxiety and tension in my patients.

What it’s not good for

  • Due to its caffeine content, high intake of green tea may increase central nervous system (CNS) stimulation of drugs such as nicotine and salbutamol and conversely reduce drug effects of CNS depressants such as benzodiazepines.
  • Green tea contains high amounts of tannins that are capable of binding to and reducing the absorption of iron and other minerals. Caution in iron deficiency and iron supplementation should be exercised.
  • Caffeine content of green tea may effect blood glucose, monitoring in diabetes is advised
  • Due to its caffeine content, green tea may exhibit a diuretic effect, so ensure you drink an extra glass of water for each cup of tea consumed.

Here is a guide to all the different types of green tea with some of the benefits and highlights to choose from when selecting the best one for you.

greenteachart

 

Excessive intake of anything, even something that is seemingly good for you, is indeed not good for you. Drinking 3-4 cups of green tea per day is sufficient to get the beneficial effects according to the research. I also recommend combining green tea with other herbal teas that can have additional medicinal benefits for your individual needs.

Drinking very high doses of any caffeinated beverage including green tea is unsafe and can cause major health issues due to caffeine content.

 

 

Healthy Easter Treats

Healthy Easter Treats

eggIt is that time of the year again when consuming copious amounts of chocolate moves from everyone’s wishlist to their to-do list! Unfortunately (and not surprisingly) eating large amounts of the sugary stuff is not good for either our waistlines or our insides.

While the old saying, "everything in moderation" is a sound one, there are some things we need to be even more careful with. Sugar is one of them! And there is a big difference in types of sugar and types of people, so we need to be aware of individual circumstances and proceed carefully.

Of course, the problem with sugar for most of us, is that we are hard wired to want more of it and it is a very addictive substance. It was a relatively rare thing in the past to have access to lots of sugar and our bodies learnt that it was a super big energy hit, so it was good to consume lots of it when we happened upon some - saving the extra for storage for the lean times that would inevitably come. The common issue these days is that we tend to over consume sugar, it is abundant in so many different forms and rarely have our seasonal lean times and so we never get good break from it. A little bit of sugar can easily turn into a whole lot of sugar.

Choc ChicksI don't recommend extremes of anything as a general rule, and so a little bit of sugar here and there is not going to cause too much harm for most people.  And the tradition of Easter lends itself to us needing to find a healthy medium for sugar and chocolate intake. Many a recipe is deemed to be healthy if it is branded with the Gluten Free or Dairy Free tagline, but beware. Any sweet treat, despite its relative benign and healthy appearance, should only be consumed in moderation.

These recipes below offer a way of having some sweet treats at Easter time and can be made with the kids and while not super good for you, they are certainly much healthier than the standard alternatives! Some of these recipes call for protein powder, so please check out my other blog post for more info about the best protein powder for you. It can be fun to make these bliss balls into egg shapes or little chicks to fit with the season.

Remember to find other ways to celebrate Easter that doesn't just involved eating chocolate! Dying boiled eggs and doing other easter crafts can be a nice activity and try getting outside for a walk in nature to ponder the changing seasons and the spiritual significance of easter.

So please enjoy these recipes and then remember to give your body its sugar break again after easter!

Fruit & Nut Bliss Balls

Chocolate Coconut Easter Chicks

Protein Fudge Balls

Chocolate Strawberry Bounty Balls

chocstrawberryballs

Natural Sunscreen

Natural Sunscreen

sozAustralia, despite being the lucky country in so many ways, is unlucky when it comes to sun radiation. The hole in the ozone layer (what protects the earth from much of the sun’s rays) unfortunately stretches along much of the eastern coast of our sun-drenched country. This coupled with high temperatures and the outdoor lifestyle so many of us enjoy has resulted in a staggering 750,000 people treated for non-melanoma skin cancer each year.

While adequate sun exposure has a host of benefits for human health, including production of vitamin D, overexposure can lead to damage and negative health impacts. As in all things, getting the right amount for our skin type, for the climate we live in and current season is the key.  Avoiding the sun is not good for our health and, likewise, getting too much is also not optimal.  I find that many of my patients are fearful of skin cancer and actively avoid the sun and as a consequence suffer health issues from insufficient sun exposure.  You may wish to check out my other article on vitamin D to learn how much sun is enough for your skin type.

Sun radiation comes in the form of ultra-violet-A (UVA) and ultra-violet-B waves (UVB). Despite both of these waves associated with skin cancers, UVB waves are generally thought of as the most damaging to the skin. In order to protect your skin against radiation damage when we are exposed to extended periods of time in the sun, sunscreen in some shape or form is a must. sunscreen differencesUnfortunately most of the sunscreens on the market protect your skin at a price. Chemical based sunscreens work on different UV spectrums and are often combined to get a stronger effect and generally require a chemical reaction in the body to block impact of the UV rays.  Active chemicals (meaning they protect against UV rays) commonly found in sunscreens have been shown to have negative impacts on our health. Some such as the common oxybenzone and oxtinoxate have been shown to be endocrine disruptors and can effect sex and thyroid hormones in human and animal studies. Other people develop skin sensitivities to sunscreen, and some skin specialists recommend natural based sunscreens as a better tolerated alternative.

If you are after more in depth information regarding sunscreen and its constituents and health implications check out the Environmental Working Group’s overview  here.

There is less incidence of adverse reactions from mineral based sunscreens such as zinc and titanium dioxide. These are known as physical block outs, because they provide a mineral based or physical layer on the surface of the skin that prevents UV light and is not absorbed into the skin. Use of these mineral-based sunscreens offer a safer alternative to the chemical based oxybenzone and oxtinoxate types.

sunDWhen examining sunscreen we use the common standard of SPF rating. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and it is a measure of a sunscreen's ability to prevent UV radiation from damaging the skin.  For example if it takes 10 minutes for your unprotected skin to start turning red, using an SPF 15 sunscreen in theory will prevent the skin reddening 15 times longer – which would equate to 150 minutes – or 2.5 hours. SPF does not equal the amount of protection per se, but rather indicates how long will it take for the skin to redden when a particular product is applied, as compared to unprotected skin.

 

Aside from natural mineral based sunscreens, there are a range of other food and plant based oils and substances that serve as mild natural sunscreeens due to their carotenoids and natural pigments. Even plain coconut oil or sesame oil has a mild ability to screen UV rays and protect the skin. See chart below for an overview of different sunscreen agents and benefits.

Table

 

rasoilThe very pigments that make blueberries blue and raspberries red protect those berries from oxidative damage from the sun. Plants have adapted to create inbuilt defence mechanisms to prevent free radical damage, and thus we can utilise some of the natural chemicals that these plants make, to protect our skin from the negative effects from the sun. Like any natural product there can be variability between batches and quality of the oil and due to different weather patterns and seasons the amount of carotenoids and actives contained in the oils may vary influencing the SPF potential. As such, I do not advocate using these oils in isolation or as a substitute to more reliable sunscreens when you do need good protection.

Making your own sunscreen is another possibility and ensuring it also has some zinc oxide in it can boost the UV protection considerably.  I found this recipe for a natural homemade sunscreen and have adapted it.  Get the recipe here.

 

 

References:

Korać RR, Khambholja KM. Potential of herbs in skin protection from ultraviolet radiation. Pharmacognosy Reviews. 2011;5(10):164-173. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.91114.

Oomah, B.D., Ladet, S., Godfrey, D.V., Liang, J., & Girard, B. (2000). Characteristics of raspberry (rubus idaeus L.) seed oil. Food Chemistry, 69;1, 187-193, S0308-8146(99)00260-5.

Kostyuk V - Natural Substances for Prevention of Skin Photoaging: Screening Systems in the Development of Sunscreen and Rejuvenation Cosmetics. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28661208

Kaur, C.D., Saraf, S. (2010). In vitro sun protection factor determination of herbal oils used in cosmetics. Pharmacognosy Research, 2(1), 22-25, 10.4103/0974-8490.60586

 

protein powders

Your Guide to Protein Powders

Protein powders - how to choose the right one for you!

Protein is an important component of practically all structures and functions of our body. Protein is needed for energy production, to build and retain muscle, to support liver detoxification and regulate our moods and thinking.

We need approximately 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight - assuming a normal weight. However, many of us don’t get sufficient protein, due to busy lives and meals not being well balanced day in and day out. Also factors such as ageing and stress can impact our ability to digest protein, placing an additional burden on our already overloaded systems. Likewise, too much protein is also detrimental on our body and in particular burdens the liver and kidneys, so it is important to aim to get the right amount each day.

While consuming a variety of whole food based proteins from animal products or by combining vegetarian sources is the best way to get protein, the use of protein powders has become a popular way of boosting our daily protein intake. The protein powder market is becoming more and more saturated by the day, so choosing the right protein for your individual needs can be tricky.  Shortly we will look at the different types of protein powder and uncover the pros and cons of each one.  But firstly it is a good idea to have some background info on amino acids to be able to understand and compare different types of protein powders.

Amino Acids

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. While some amino acids are needed from the foods we eat, our body is capable of making other amino acids. This is why amino acids are divided into two groups: The essential amino acids; those that we can’t create, and the non-essential amino acids; those that we can.
aminoacids

 

Most good quality protein powders contain all of the essential amino acids and additional non-essential amino acids alanine, arginine, asparagine (or aspartic acid), cysteine, glutamine (or glutamic acid), glycine, proline, serine and tyrosine. If a vegetarian based protein works best for you I would recommend combining rice and pea proteins to ensure you are getting all essential and most non essential amino acids.

Branched Chain Amino Acids

Branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s) are concentrated in muscle tissue and used to fuel working muscles. The content of BCAA’s in protein powder is therefore an important factor to consider when choosing one that is right for you. The BCAA’s isoleucine, leucine and valine are highest in whey-based protein powders (24%) followed by soy (22%) and then brown rice (18%).

Ratio of Amino Acids - Lysine to Arginine

The herpes virus (cold sores) can be reduced by the amino acid lysine.

Lysine and arginine are competing amino acids within the body. Oftentimes our diets are replete in arginine and lacking in lysine. Lysine is needed for the formation of immune molecules known as immunoglobulins. If the arginine to lysine balance is thrown out the formation of immunoglobulins is reduced. Arginine is also needed by viruses to be able to reproduce so having adequate lysine stores helps to prevent this from occurring. When the ratio of lysine to arginine is thrown out our body becomes more susceptible to opportunistic and dormant infections.  Reoccurring cold sores (herpes virus) are an example of this. When choosing a protein powder it is important to look for a ratio of 3:2 of arginine to lysine. Some people can find that a protein powder that is too high in arginine may result in an outbreak of cold sores or other infections.

 

Whey Protein

Contains 70%-80% protein and up to 5% lactose. Whey protein is rapidly digested making it a preferred source of protein for athletes however the lactose content may cause gastrointestinal discomfort in those with lactose intolerance. It is important to note that the 5% lactose content found in whey protein is slightly higher than what is normally found in other dairy products. If gastrointestinal symptoms occur after whey protein it is probably best to change powders or consider swapping cows milk to a dairy free alternative as having a whey based protein with cows milk compounds the lactose. Whey protein contains more isoleucine, leucine (branched chain amino acids), lysine and threonine than other non-animal sources of protein. I stock a great grass fed whey powder that is affordable and effective.

 

Brown rice is used to make protein powder

Brown rice is used to make protein powder

Brown Rice Protein

Brown rice protein powders contain approximately 78% protein. Despite its lower protein content, a recent study found there to be no difference in post workout recovery or soreness between brown rice protein and whey protein. Brown rice protein has more phenylalanine (a precursor of our feel good hormone dopamine) compared to whey based protein powders, and more valine and methionine compared to soy based proteins.

Pea Protein

Pea based powders contain about 73% protein. As peas are considered a fructooligosaccharide and are highly fermentable by our gut bacteria, pea protein should be avoided in cases of irritable bowel or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Pea protein contains more lysine than brown rice protein. As we learned above, the amino acid lysine improves immune system function but is also stimulates intestinal absorption of calcium, and is required for collagen synthesis. Lysine is particularly important in vegetarians and vegans, as it is commonly deficient.

Soy Protein

Soy protein concentrate is made from soy flour with the water-soluble carbohydrates and fat removed and typically contains about 70% protein. Soy protein isolate is made from the same process only taken a step further resulting in almost 90% pure protein. Soy protein powders are generally low in sulfur-containing amino acids (methionine and cysteine) but high in branched chain amino acids. Soy protein also contains phyto-oestrogens that are essentially plant compounds that mimic the effect oestrogen has on the body. It is best to consult your practitioner as to whether consuming foods containing phyto-oestrogens on a regular basis would be appropriate for you as certain hormonal conditions can benefit from the use of phytoestrogens – but not in all cases.  A component in soy is also considered to be goitrogenic and therefore is best avoided in people with hypothyroidism. An additional factor to consider when choosing a soy-based protein is the origin of the soy plant. The majority of soy in most western societies is now genetically modified (GM).  I believe it is best to avoid non-organic soy foods as there are some serious concerns being raised in new studies on GM foods.

 

Collagen
Collagen is necessary for healthy skin and hair and also contributes to joints, nails and bone strength.

Collagen is necessary for healthy skin and hair and also contributes to joints, nails and bone strength.

Collagen is the main structural protein found in our skin, ligaments, tendons and other connective tissues. Collagen can be divided into three subcategories, all with varying roles.

Type I collagen comprises 90% of all the collagen in our body and is needed for healthy skin, hair, nails, organs, bones and ligaments.

Type II collagen is primarily found in the articular and hyaline cartilage and is needed for joint health. Type II collagen is often supplemented in either its hydrolyzed or un-denatured forms. Un-denatured type II collagen is not generally found in protein powders and instead is usually found in supplements targeting joint support. About 40 milligrams or more of collagen has been shown to be beneficial in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Type III collagen is found in skin, lung and heart tissue. Supplementation of this type of collagen usually occurs in combination with type I in the form of hydrolyzed collagen. Hydrolyzed collagen is used for generalised skin and joint health, while un-denatured collagen is more specific for arthritic conditions. About 10 grams of hydrolyzed collagen is usually put in protein powders and is listed under collagen hydrolysate, hydrolyzed gelatin or collagen peptides.

Standalone collagen powders are also available usually in type I or a combination of type I and III. Collagen, being a protein itself, is often used to boost protein intake, and aid tissue recovery and repair. Five grams (1 teaspoon) of collagen hydrolysate is a decent dose of collagen as a standalone powder.

Bone Broth

brothIn addition to supplemental forms, collagen intake can also be increased through foods. Bone broth is a wonderfully nutritive and restorative way of using food as medicine to improve collagen stores. For more on the benefits of bone broth and a link to my recipe click here.

Sources of Collagen

  • Piscine (fish)
    • PROS: Collagen proteins from fish are considered superior in raising overall body collagen (Type 1) and improving skin, hair, nail, and bone quality (Shiratsuchi et al. 2010)
    • CONS: Fish collagen peptides generally cost more than other sources of collagen
  • Bovine (cow)*
    • PROS: Bovine collagen peptides are usually lower cost, and comprise a wide array of collagen supplements on the market due to the high accessibility of bovine materials
    • CONS: Not considered as effective as fish collagen peptides in raising overall body collagen levels
  • Porcine (pig)*
    • PROS: Like bovine products, pig collagen peptides are usually lower cost, and comprise a wide array of collagen supplements on the market due to the high accessibility of porcine materials
    • CONS: Not considered as effective as fish collagen peptides in raising overall body collagen levels
  • Fowl (chicken)*
    • PROS: Chicken collagen peptides are known to be most effective for supporting cartilage in the body. For this reason, type II collagen supplements are usually derived from chicken
    • CONS: Not considered effective at raising overall body collagen levels

*Collagen from grazing animals such as bovine and pig should be sourced from grass-fed only animals. Collagen from chicken is typically not as common as the other sources, if you are wanting to supplement using a chicken based collagen make sure the chickens were free range and raised on hormone-free feed.

I have been using a grass fed beef bone based collagen and find it to be very good, so have now started stocking it in my Buderim clinic.

Sugars, Sweeteners and Carbohydrates

stev

Stevia rebaudiana - a naturally sweet leaf!

Protein powders usually rely on low calorie sweeteners to improve palatability. While reducing sugar and carbohydrates is important in weight loss and muscle building, certain sweeteners can also cause unwanted effects. It is best (and often more affordable) to use plain protein powders and then sweeten them yourself to your own taste with berries, banana, cacao powder and natural sweetener such as honey or maple syrup or you can use the low calorie herbal based ones. The popular natural plant based ones include stevia sourced from the Stevia rebaudiana plant or thaumatin which is a protein that comes from West African Katemfe fruit.

Sweeteners to avoid include:
  • Aspartame: Linked to increase oxidative stress in the brain and shown to impair memory.
  • Sucralose: Shown to alter how our bodies metabolise sugar and was found to be linked to leukaemia in a mice study.
  • Acesulfame K: Linked to thyroid dysfunction and metabolism disorders in animal studies
  • Saccharin: Potentially carcinogenic
  • Xylitol / Sorbitol: Often used in gum and oral hygiene products to reduce oral bacteria however use of this sweetener is also associated with gut symptoms such as bloating, gas, cramping and diarrhoea.

When it comes to sweeteners, the natural low calorie type is the better option -  examples of these include thaumatin and stevia. A problem with artificial and low-calorie sweeteners in general is that our body is too intelligent to be tricked. It is in our DNA to seek out high calorie foods for survival, and although our taste buds associate sweetness with higher calories, studies have shown that the consumption of artificial sweeteners does little to quell our overall sugar intake.

Quick Reference Checklist For Choosing Good Protein Powder
  • Aim for 6 grams of branched chain amino acids per serve
  • All essential amino acids with the additional amino acids alanine, arginine, asparagine (or aspartic acid), cysteine, glutamine (or glutamic acid), glycine, proline, serine and tyrosine
  • Protein from a preferably organic grass-fed (for bovine and porcine) and pasture raised/hormone free (for chicken) source
  • A lysine to arginine ratio of 2:3
  • 10 grams of hydrolyzed collagen (listed under collagen hydrolysate, hydrolyzed gelatin or collagen peptides)
  • No artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame K, saccharin or xylitol / sorbitol)

 

If you would like to source a good protein powder, I can supply grass fed whey or collagen based protein and can order in a pea or rice based one for vegetarian/vegan diets. Please be in touch for more information or to purchase some protein powder.

Also, if you are after a more detailed comparison between protein sources and their amino acid profiles, check out this great study.

 

Turmeric

Turmeric Health Benefits

Turmeric, also know as Curcuma longa,  is a spicy perennial plant of the ginger family, (Zingiberaceae) with potent health benefits.

turmeric plantNative to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, Turmeric has been used for thousands of years for both medicinal, dyeing and culinary purposes in a range of cultures. Turmeric was often used as a cheap substitute for saffron to give fabrics or foods a bright yellow colour.

In recent years Turmeric has been under the spotlight and undergone much research. In particular the active ingredient Curcumin is the most potent agent of research. Curcumin is a polyphenol, a particularly beneficial molecule found in many fruits and vegetables. 

Curcumin, which gives the yellow color to turmeric, was first isolated in 1910. Traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine has long used Turmeric for a wide variety of diseases and conditions, including those of the skin, lung and digestion systems and for general aches, pains, wounds, sprains, and liver disorders. Extensive research within the last half century has proven that most of these activities, once associated with turmeric, are due to curcumin.

turmeric & gingerResearch has found that curcumin beneficially modulates many diseases including diabetes, fatty-liver disease, atherosclerosis, arthritis, cancer and neurological disorders such as depression, Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease. It's primary role is as a potent anti-inflammatory and many of the modern chronic diseases have an inflammatory component driving them. You can use curcumin for pain such as headaches, period pain and back or joint pain.

Curcumin also displays potent antimicrobial actions against different bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites and can play a role in antibiotic resistance. A synergy between curcumin and antibiotics has yielded favourable results in some studies, but caution is warranted against using it routinely with all antibiotics as curcumin has also been shown to decrease the efficacy of some classes antibiotics by mechanisms which protected the bacteria from the action of the drug. 1

Curcumin can be a bit difficult to absorb and the best results come from a supplement that is altered to ensure it is well absorbed. Specifically it needs the present of fat to aid absorption. While the absorption and bioavailability is something we always focus on, in some cases, turmeric still has a beneficial role even with poor absorption. Interesting new research has found that curcumin could maintain the intestinal integrity and improve the barrier of the gut and and thereby decrease the release of gut bacteria-derived lipopolysaccharide (LPS), even with marginal absorption.   High levels of circulating LPS are linked to chronic inflammation and many metabolic disease. 2

Supplements v Dietary Intake?

While using Turmeric in cooking is a great idea, it may be difficult to get high amounts of the active ingredients in cooking.  Absorption is definitely enhanced by fats and black pepper - which is why these ingredients appear in the classic Golden Paste recipe. There will be many benefits from eating fresh or dried turmeric root as a regular part of your diet, but if you are after a superior action on inflammation, pain, bacteria or cancer, it will be more useful to take a quality supplement. Moreover, many people get sick of the turmeric taste in their cooking and may find it hard to get sufficient turmeric into their diet or regularly enough to have a big impact.

curcumin capsulesSupplements should have concentrated amounts of curcumin and also be combined in a way to enhance absorption - such as including the addition of liposomes or phospholipid complexes. Differences in absorption of different curcumin supplements can be as much as 10 fold, and you definitely pay for what you get! As practitioners, we source some of the best supplements, so come in and have a chat if you are interested in trying it out. In some cases we combine it with other herbs to give a more beneficial result.

All in all, Turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin are highly useful for many health conditions - both prevention and treatment.
It is so easy to include it in your diet, it also pares well with its sister plant, ginger, in cooking and medicine.  So try some of my Golden Paste and see how you go with this little gold nugget of a herb!

 

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24877064
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29420166

 

Dance for Health

Dance for Health!

danceFinding exercise that we love and want to do is the key to making sustainable, lasting habits.

Some of us need a form of exercise that involves a challenge, others need to be in a group or team environment to be motivated to exercise, while some of us like the steady rhythm of quiet time in nature while exercising. Whatever our own interest and experience, if we find something we enjoy, then it is easier to exercise regularly without the internal conflict of what you "should" be doing rather than what you "want" to be doing.

I have been a long term morning walker for many years, and coupled with yoga, this has been my main form of exercise. My morning walk provides physical exercise as well doubling up as a form of mindfulness practice and it also gives me a regular dose of time out in nature. I love to watch the sun rise each morning, which gives me the valuable benefit of sun gazing, alongside my mountain walk.  Walking is an easy exercise that nearly anyone can do, and it is easy to do it at a pace that suits you and in an environment that appeals to you.  Barefoot walking or beach walking is particularly good as it helps to also ground us and reduces inflammation in the body.

hunterSometimes, we want or need the additional benefit of some cardio though as so many of us are sedentary and modern life gives us few opportunities to really get the heart rate up or strengthen our muscles. New research shows that high intensity interval training alongside stretching and weights, gives superior benefits on cardiovascular health and fitness. High intensity interval can be done with short sprints - such as running or riding....or in my case - dancing! This form of exercise is aimed at mimicking what our hunter-gatherer ancestors did - by engaging in activities that build endurance and strength coupled with short bursts of cardio. In contrast, long distance running doesn't offer the same benefits.  Most cultures around the world also have forms of dance and creative movement, and traditionally dance has tended to be a part of both sacred or religious practice as well as entertainment.

dance2I have always loved to dance and for a long time never really thought it could be a regular form of exercise. In my younger years in Melbourne, while studying at uni, I would go out dancing to venues or to see live music, and often rode my bike there, drank water all night and road home again! I loved the escape of dancing and the fun social time with my friends and as a struggling student, it was a cheap night out! While I have danced on and off over the last decade or so, I found that raising young kids while working full time, didn't lend itself to much partying or dancing! Yet, dancing has found its way back into my life in a much bigger way over the past year.  I have now embraced it as a genuine form of exercise that I can incorporate into my day and weekly rhythm. The thing that I love about dance is that it serves as a form of exercise as well as a form of meditation and a way of expressing my emotions.

Dance really is medicine for the soul! Dance lets us get into our body, get out of our head and by using music that speaks to us, we are freed up to take a journey within and without. I also find that dance is the perfect way to get into my feminine energy of flow and creativity. Many modern women are stuck in the mode of busyness and achieving and working hard out in the world. All of which calls on our masculine energy and leaves us a bit hard edged and exhausted. When we shut down to our feminine flow, our creative energy is stifled and our physical bodies suffer. When we are stuck in our head, we tend to split off from our connection to our body - the very thing that houses and supports us!

wild danceWorking with our emotions and finding ways to regularly express them is super important at staying healthy on every level. Another article I have recently written on emotional health and detox highlights the many ways emotions can interfere with our physical health. By adopting a practice that gets you into your body, your senses and your feelings gives us an avenue to release tension and pent up emotions, free up our energy and boost our vitality.  There have been many modern dance practices that have been created to work with dance as a form of sacred movement and emotional release. The Five Rhythms and other conscious dance practices are very popular and even the No Lights, No Lycra dance nights show the popularity of people wanting to dance for health, fun and exercise.

So dance is the perfect embodiment practice to work with the emotions and with this in mind, I will be offering some local workshops and gatherings to explore dance and reawaken women to their feminine essence. I am blessed to have the perfect studio space on my hinterland property for workshops which doubles up as my dance studio and practice space.   The best part of dance as a form of medicine or therapy is that it is super fun and gets you fit in the process!

If you would like to learn more or participate in the women's dance nights, please click here or see the 'what's on' page for dates.

 

Emotional Health

Emotional Health: The Key to Optimal Health

Is it time to detox your emotions?

Finger art of people. The concept of a group of people with different personalities.Emotional health is the ultimate key to achieving optimal physical health. It is as beneficial to do an emotional cleanse as it is to do a physical detox!
After 20 years in practice, I can say without a doubt that emotional health is the ultimate key to really achieving optimal physical health. With all the research and modern scientific understanding we now have about us humans and the relationship between our emotions and how our cells function, we really can no longer separate out our physical issues and complaints from our emotional state, our state of mind and our spiritual wellbeing.

Many of us focus on caring for physical bodies and try to make healthy choices in foods and lifestyle habits. Likewise, it is hard to ignore the mainstream popularity of detoxing our physical bodies, as we are regularly told via magazines, television health shows and from social media gurus that the body needs a cleanse from time to time. And of course this is true! On top of the socially accepted "poisons" we choose to ingest such as cigarette smoking, alcohol and over the counter medicines, modern life also gives us a wide array of hidden environmental toxins.  Many things make their way into our bodies, without our express permission.  Most of us are exposed to a myriad of everyday toxins such as pollution from petrol fumes, paints, plastics, chemicals lurking in modern furnishings and pesticides in our vegetables to body care products, fragrances and preservatives and artificial colours in our foods.  All of these things take a toll on our health and can impact on our hormones, brain function, energy and immunity. So our body can certainly enjoy a break from this constant exposure from time to time and will definitely benefit from a good detox to boost our system, organ function and energy.

But what about the impact of our emotions, thoughts, beliefs and feelings?

Could these be impacting on our health and wellbeing too?

Is it beneficial to do an emotional and mindset cleanse?

The answer to these questions is a resounding YES!

HBModern research proves that the quality of our emotions and beliefs has a massive impact on our cells and body function. As much as it is easy to separate out our body from our mind and spirit for ease of understanding, in reality we function as one complex and highly coordinated dynamic system. Moreover, the directives that our body receives come from our heart and mind and thus the impact of our beliefs, programming and feelings will be felt right down into our cells. With the advent of modern science and medicine, we embarked on the path of deconstruction, compartmentalising and separating our body into systems and specialties. But before that, in most cultures around the world, the human being was always viewed and understood as a complex whole being - comprising physical, energetic and spiritual aspects. In all traditional medicine and healing philosophies across different cultures importance was always placed on the mind and emotions and now science has come full circle and is proving this to be true.

So getting in touch with our emotions, doing a bit of an inner detox is just as important as an outer detox. We like to promote the benefits of eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep, but being aware of your inner state and working consciously with your emotions and beliefs is paramount for optimal health and happiness.

There are a range of different methods to support emotional health - and by identifying and releasing old patterns and emotions I have found we can make a massive difference to our health, energy, wellbeing and inner state of mind. At the end of the day, we all want to feel happy, energetic and peaceful. Often our emotions are stored in our bodies and our physical body carries our stories. So many cases I have seen demonstrate the link between our emotions, old stuck patterns and subconscious beliefs and our physical health issues. So as a holistic practitioner always seeking to find the underlying cause of health issues, I tend to end up in areas beyond the physical. So over the years, I have trained in various methodologies to deepen my capacity to support healing on these more subtle and energetic levels in addition to the physical surface issues.

bodyemotionI find our bodies very effectively tell our stories or mirror our beliefs through our symptoms and signs and illnesses. Most of the time we are unaware of this link and so we poke and prod our physical bodies, aiming to reduce or suppress our symptoms as quick as possible through medications such as painkillers, antihistamines and antibiotics. In other words, we shoot the messenger before it has delivered the message! Which tends to mean the next message is louder and potentially more destructive - to get our attention.

What if instead of waiting until symptoms arrive on our doorstep or worsen, we dealt with our emotional health on a regular basis? Cleansing, releasing, healing and integrating our experiences and emotions is the foundation for deeper health and wellbeing. By doing this, our body is free to get on doing what it does best and it no longer needs to carry the emotional baggage we should have left behind at the last train stop!

There are many methods of doing emotional integration work and can range from inquiry, journalling and talk therapy, to guided visualisations and healings, through to more dynamic, fun and interactive body based methods and kinesiology. The best part of working with emotions and clearing them is the release and freedom that comes with letting go. It is amazing how quickly energy improves and symptoms can disappear, when the underlying cause is addressed.

suppTips to start working with your emotions include self inquiry techniques such as reflection, journalling, dream recall, art therapy and music  as well as finding ways to express your emotions regularly through the body - with movement, sound and breath.

If you would like to unlock old patterns or emotions and experience greater health and well being, then I would be very happy to work with you, facilitating this process. Together we can design a programme that is right for you, to allow you to move through things at a pace and style that suits you. Having facilitation and guidance always fast tracks your experience and helps you to reach your goals quicker!

 

 

Festive Season Health

The festive season is now upon us and that generally means an increase in social engagements.   While for most of us this is a fun time of year, it can also result in health issues such as sluggishness, weight gain and fatigue.  So let’s look at what goes on and how we can stay healthy during the Christmas and New Year period.

Alcohol is certainly the first thing most people think of when they think of the ‘silly season’.  Most of us know that alcohol and our livers are not good friends.  In fact, alcohol consumption can affect many different systems not just the liver.  Alcohol directly damages the stomach wall causing inflammation and alcohol is also a nervous system depressant, which can lead to mood change, irritability and depression – especially over time or with excess consumption.

The amount of alcohol that a person can safely consume is highly individual, depending on age, sex, weight and family history.  So the festive message is to be mindful of the affects that alcohol has on your body and take it easy.  Pace yourself with drinks (no more than one per hour) and drink hydrating water in between alcoholic drinks to avoid dehydration which is the major cause of hangovers.   You can easily make festive non-alcoholic drinks with plain mineral water by adding lime, mint and berries. Alcohol is rapidly absorbed on an empty stomach, so be sure to always eat something when you are having a drink.  Women who are pregnant or planning to get pregnant should completely avoid alcohol. Supplementing with a multivitamin that contains good amounts of B vitamins is also a good idea to support your health especially at this time of year.

With all the socialising that comes with the festive season, many people not only drink too much but often end up eating too much food and more of the wrong kinds of food.  Finger foods at functions are often high in refined flour products and sugar and may be cooked in trans fats.  Try to avoid foods with artificial flavours, colours and preservatives which stress the liver and kidneys. Choose where possible healthy options such as raw vegies with dips, cheese, wholemeal pitta breads, succhi, fruit platters and nuts.  Avoid over eating by not eating lots of nibbles before dinner.  When planning your menus think about choosing lighter alternatives such as fresh seafood, salads, fruit and cheese instead of a hot, traditional festive lunch or dinner.  Also try to keep up your exercise routine, and think of swimming when the weather is too hot for other exercise.

Many of my patients find the festive season very stressful emotionally.  Some people are not close or compatible with their family and find getting together very difficult.  While others might feel lonely spending Christmas miles away from their family.  Regardless of our situation, nearly everyone gets a bit overwhelmed with the sheer busyness of the festive season.  However, we can approach Christmas with a different attitude and take time out for ourselves to reflect on the year, our friends and family.  This is particularly helpful with children who can get too easily caught up with the commercialism of the season.

Remember what the underlying meaning of this time of year is and seek to be more peaceful and content with simple pleasures.  We are lucky enough to live in a beautiful natural environment – so connecting to nature through the sea or the bush can bring much needed peace.  Try not to fill the social calendar to capacity, allow some time for a quiet night or day. Lastly, it is essential to try and get good quality and sufficient sleep as this will help recharge your batteries.  This might even mean taking a siesta - something we shouldn’t feel guilty about at this time of year!

chewing and brain function

Chewing and Brain Function

A Broad Impact on Health

carrotWho would have thought that the action of chewing food had a role other than to start the digestion process! Increasing research studies have found that mastication (technical term for the the action of chewing food) has a major impact on many aspects of our health. Chewing and brain function effects have been found in connection to learning, memory, focus and concentration.

Raw fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds and meat all demand more chewing. Many processed foods and cooked foods are softer and easier to chew through.  One of my pet hates when it comes to commercial food products are those ridiculous pouches of soft pureed fruit that kids consume direct from a tube, instead of chewing through an apple or orange! Now we know that this will have a negative impact on their brain, memory and learning.

On average, it is estimated that we chew 800 to 1,400 times a day.  We generally recommend chewing our food slowly, at least around 15 times, but for many foods we don't need that long and realistically swallowing is in an instinctive behaviour. We simply know when food is chewed well enough and then we naturally swallow. While it may seem logical that easy to digest food is a good thing, in reality we haven't evolved with soft foods. Many of the pathways that stimulate digestive juices and gut motility (that are essential for digestion) stem from the action of chewing and the taste of foods. Bitter foods for example are highly stimulating for digestion and chewing sends signals to the brain that stimulate the gut to prepare for food.

Good Teeth Are The Key!

elderlyAs we age, many people have declining memory and focus and concurrently may also suffer from poor dental function. With bad teeth, elderly people often resort to soft foods that don't tax the teeth, however this may lead to unexpected negative consequences. Not only will the gut not get clear signals for digestive juice manufacture, we now know there are more broad problems that can arise in distant regions of the body.  In particular, we know that mastication has a direct impact on learning and memory formation and so poor dental health can impact the brain. For instance, research has shown that the systemic effects of tooth loss are a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

The hippocampus is the brain region that is involved with forming memories and it seems that the action of mastication, stimulates this area. Functional MRI studies can compare the difference in brain region activity in different populations. The acquisition of memory in elderly people was significantly enhanced by chewing, but benefits of chewing had less effects in younger people.

Interestingly, another study found that lower intakes of nutrient-dense foods and higher intakes of unhealthy foods were also both independently associated with smaller left hippocampal volume. So it seems that it is both the processed foods being both nutrient poor and requiring less chewing that create a perfect storm for brain impairments.

Researchers have also found that a reduction in corticosterone production is another way that mastication can have a role in poor brain function. Thus a chronic stress state is induced by poor chewing activity and this can in turn lead to learning and memory impairments.  Concurrently, the act of chewing during stressful conditions was shown to attenuate the effects of stress on cognitive function. This has been further explored by some researchers with a recommendation to chew gum as a way of enhancing memory and cognition and delaying the development of dementia and also ameliorate the effects of stress on the brain.

appleSo there are so many reasons to chew your food well, and make sure the foods you eat include some types that require lots of chewing - like raw veggies! Also, it serves that foundational to this whole approach is to also ensure optimal dental hygiene. So if you choose to chew gum to boost your memory, make sure it is sugar free or contains xylitol which has been shown to reduce oral bacteria and prevent gum disease.

 

To learn more about maintaining healthy teeth through whole foods  - see this previous article.

 

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