Food Choices

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seasonal Eating

Seasonal Eating

In years gone by, eating according to the seasons used to be a given. People wouldn't have talked about seasonal eating, because there was no alternative! 

Nowadays, we can access food grown right across the globe, all year round. As such, much of what we eat is often out of season. Aside from the environmental cost of food miles, it is important to know that our bodies have always lived close to nature and the seasons and may well do better on the foods grown locally, than the ones that come from another country, hemisphere or the opposite season. Many folk medicine traditions also recommend that locally grown herbs and weeds are often the best medicine for the local population, like some kind of reciprocal nature agreement!

​​​​​​The other advantage of seasonal eating is that it is fresher, more nutritious and often cheaper to buy food that is in season, especially organic produce. When there is an abundance of the in season fruits and vegetables, it drives the prices down and makes them more affordable and easier to source.

When are disconnected from nature and the cycles of the earth, we often have no idea what food is in season and when. If you ask the average person when asparagus or cherries are in season, they might not know as these foods, which used to be available only with a short season, are now imported and seem to be around for most of the year. To keep food fresh and able to survive the long travelling distance has lead to genetic variations being developed that might make a food hardier and easier to transport, but less flavoursome and nutritious. Moreover, often chemicals are added to the produce to delay the deterioration, which isn't always the best or healthiest option either.

So although there can be quite significant geographical differences in locally grown produce across the vast country of Australia, the following list highlights foods that are readily available and in season during different seasons for most of Australia.

Experiment with vegetables or fruits that you maybe haven't tried before and try some new recipes!  A wide variety of plant foods means more of the powerful phytonutrients (healthy plant based goodies!) that our bodies love. Having actions that can include anticancer, antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti ageing - fresh seasonal vegetables and fruits can be medicine in our meals!

Download this handy seasonal food guide

 

 

Slow Cooked Kangaroo

Slow Cooked Kangaroo with Fig & Rosemary

 

Kangaroo is an under utilised Australian meat. For years this Australian emblem has been etched into our minds as a cute and cuddly cultural symbol. Because of this, kangaroo has remained for the most part far from our dinner plates. Meat culture in Australia follows a westernised diet of beef, lamb, pork, poultry and fish. We think nothing of consuming these animals giving little thought or consideration to the environmental impact our diets leave in their wake.

The beef industry is a major contributor to the production of methane gas, however new modelling shows that when including the carbon sequestration and storage of grassland pastures, the methane production is reduced compared to grainfed beef. Regardless of the difficulty in estimating the negative impacts of agricultural practices on the environment, we can all agree that using wild caught, sustainable produce is best. Kangaroo, an alternative source of red meat, has an array of benefits on both our health and the environment. Depending on the cut of meat chosen, Kangaroo lends itself well to BBQ, stirfries, mince based dishes such as Bolognese and slow cooking such as the recipe featured below.

Features of Kangaroo Meat:

  • Highest meat source of the essential fatty acid, alpha-linoleic acid (five times higher than lamb) the beneficial conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and also contains omega 3 fats EPA/DHA
  • High in minerals iron and zinc and B vitamins
  • All kangaroo meat harvested is wild, with the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia implementing tough guidelines around harvesting.
  • Being a wild caught animal, it is free of antibiotics, growth hormones and other chemicals used in modern farming.
  • Kangaroo over-population (now considered to be at pest levels) caused by European settlement causes land degradation.

 

RECIPE

Serves 4-6
What You Need
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 100g chopped celery (about 2 stalks)
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 cloves garlic, crushed & chopped
  • 2 anchovies
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1kg diced kangaroo meat
  • 2 tablespoons of besan (chickpea) flour
  • 375mL red wine
  • 500mL beef stock
  • 8-10 dried figs (stalks removed)
  • 2 tablespoons good quality balsamic vinegar
What To Do

Preheat oven to 150°C or switch on slow cooker is using

Pour 4 tablespoons of oil into large frying pan.

Fry the onions, celery, rosemary and anchovies.

Once the onions are browned and beginning to caramelize, add the garlic and figs cooking for 2-3 minutes.

Add the wine and transfer mix to a large ovenproof baking dish or slow cooker pot.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in frying pan.

Lightly dust the kangaroo with besan flour and brown in the hot oil for 2-3 minutes

Transfer the kangaroo to the baking dish/slow cooker pot.

Heat the beef stock in the frying pan and once the stock is brought to the boil, pour over meat in the baking dish/slow cooker pot.

Cover tightly with foil and bake for 3-4 hours or in slow cooker on low for 6-7 hours.

Transfer kangaroo to plate and allow to rest.

While the meat is resting, pour the cooking liquid into a frying pan.

Add the balsamic vinegar and reduce until liquid becomes a thick sauce – add salt and pepper to taste.

Drizzle the sauce over the meat and serve with steamed or wok tossed vegetables on the side and your choice of cauliflower mash or rice/quinoa/polenta.

 

 

Recipe adapted from the Warm; Kunara Cookbook (2015)

Medicinal Honey

Medicinal Honey

Exploring Manuka Honey & Jelly Bush Honey for Health

The therapeutic use of honey can be traced as far back as early Egyptian civilizations. Despite this long traditional use, it was not until the twentieth century that honey proved its worth in scientific trials. In the past 100 years countless studies have shown manuka honey and other medicinal honeys to offer an effective treatment of coughs, sore throats, burns, wounds and ulceration with far less side effects than other topical treatments such as silver sulfadiazine.

Honey & Coughs

Honey has also been found to be equally effective as cough medicines for soothing coughs. This research paper highlights that most prescribed and over-the-counter preparations for cough in children are not effective and might carry the risk of adverse events. A single dose of honey before bedtime was shown to diminish cough and the discomfort experienced by children and their parents. And only regular honey was used in this study, so we can imagine that medicinal honey would be even better!

Honey & Wounds

Honey’s wound healing properties are attributed to osmolarity, pH, hydrogen peroxide production and nutrient content. The high osmolarity of honey draws excess fluid from the wound helping relieve inflammation. pH refers to the level of acidity and alkalinity of an environment. The low pH of honey creates an acidic environment that reduces bacterial growth and stimulates wound healing. These factors work synergistically in creating a favourable environment in the wound bed during the early stages of healing.

Manuka Honey

Not all honey is created equal.  Manuka honey comes from flower nectar of the manuka bush Leptospermum scoparium, a plant indigenous to New Zealand. Although all honey possesses generalised antibacterial activity, Manuka honey is a cut above. These unique antibacterial and antifungal properties, discovered by researchers in 1981, is what sets this honey apart from the rest. New Zealand native bees do not produce honey, however, the European honey bee was introduced to New Zealand and became the source of local medicinal honeys.

Jelly Bush Honey

Australian Jelly Bush honey also possesses similar antibacterial properties to Manuka honey. The Jelly Bush or Golden Tea Tree plant, Leptospermum polygalifolium, grows in certain areas of the coast between Kempsey and Bribie Island as well as in Far North Queensland. Tasting a lot like paperbark honey, with a strong malt taste, Jelly Bush honey is only produced in the spring when the coastal heath explodes into a shower of tiny flowers that the local bees love. Some say that Australian Jelly Bush does not crystallise as readily like its competition across the Tasman, making it superior for skin wounds that refuse to heal. The Australian Aborigines have a long history of using native bees - harvesting both honey, pollen and wax for many applications. See this article for more info.

How Medicinal Honey Works

The chemical compounds hydrogen peroxide, methylglyoxal and dihydroxyacetone give active honeys their antibacterial power. These compounds, also known as the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) is what Manuka honey is graded on. So far researchers world wide have not been able to identify all the exact compounds in the plant that the bees harvest and are specifically responsible for the efficacy of the active honey.

Image courtesy of Dr Ben McKee, Managing Director of Capilano Honey Ltd (2018)

Methylglyoxal (MGO) has been shown to be effective against the following bacteria infamous for causing skin infections, leg ulcers and peptic ulcers:

  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus
  • Psuedomonas aeurginosa
  • Proteus mirabilis
  • Enterobacter cloacae
  • Helicobacter pylori

 

Grading System

Most manuka honeys use the UMF grading system. This grading system was set up by the UMF Honey Association of New Zealand (UMFHA) to ensure industry standards.  Another standard commonly referenced is the MGO level or methylglyoxal content.

Below is a conversion chart to help understand the two systems:

Image courtesy of Comvita (2018)

Active Honey Doesn’t Come Cheap!

The price of manuka honey is dependent upon the UMF or MGO rating. A higher rating denotes that the honey has a greater therapeutic effect and therefore a higher price. Because there are two grading systems, it is easy to get confused between what each means. UMF is largely thought of as the better grading system because it not only takes into account the methylglyoxal content but also the hydrogen peroxide and dioxyacetone levels. In a nutshell the higher the number, the better the honey. Active honey can range in price from $20 to $80 for a 250g jar – depending on its activity rating. I stock the Active Jelly Bush Honey in my Buderim clinic for $35 for UMF 15.

So while we need to be mindful of consuming too much sugar and honey is no different, active honeys from Manuka or Jelly Bush offer health benefits as well as a sweet taste.  Using these honeys topically on wounds, for inflammation and for a local antiseptic action on sore throats or for coughs is a great way of getting a simple natural remedy we can use at home!

 

 

Paleo Muesli

Natural Muesli Recipes

for Busy Mornings

Popping some muesli and yoghurt in a jar can give you a healthy breakfast to go for those busy mornings!

It is important to start your day the right way with a decent amount of protein, fats and fibre. Sometimes our busy lifestyles prevent us from chowing down on a serving of eggs and veg, and ironically these more stressful times are the periods we need these food groups the most. Often when our busy lives prevail we reach for a less-healthy, more convenient breakfast food like cereal.

Muesli, like all cereals, should be thought of as an occasional alternative to a more protein rich breakfast. We can also get sick of having eggs every morning and sometimes we just need a bit of variety. While many cereals are loaded with unnecessary sugars, when we make our own wholeseome muesli we can be more in control of the fuel we give our body on those busy mornings when we need it most. Here are two recipes that you can try:

 

Toasted Oat, Macadamia & Cranberry Muesli Recipe

Why it’s good

Oats are a good source of B-complex vitamins, protein, amino acids and minerals such as calcium, potassium, phosphorous, manganese, zinc and iron. As well as being a valuable source of these nutrients, oats contain a soluble fiber called beta-glucan, to which most of the food’s health benefits are owed:

  • Beta-glucans increase bile acid synthesis that inadvertently decrease blood serum cholesterol
  • Being a soluble fiber, beta-glucans slow stomach emptying thereby reducing the rise of blood glucose following a meal

Cranberries outrank many other common fruits and vegetables in antioxidants, with an antioxidant (ORAC) score of 8,983 per cup of whole cranberries. See this article for a discussion of the ORAC score and antioxidant ratings for many superfoods.

What further sets cranberry apart from others in the fruit family is it’s high content of A-type-proanthocyanidins, a more biologically stable counterpart of B-type-proanthocyanidins found in other fruits.

Coconut is a good source of copper, manganese, selenium, iron and potassium as well as being high in lauric acid, an essential saturated fatty acid that promotes HDL (the good cholesterol) and also weight loss.

Macadamia nuts are high in monounsaturated fats, which have been shown to improve blood lipid profiles and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

 

Ingredients: What you need
  • 2 cups of rolled oats
  • ½ cup of dried cranberries
  • 1 cup of shredded coconut
  • ½ cup of macadamias (raw or roasted)
  • ½ cup of sunflower seeds
  • ½ cup of pepitas

*This recipe makes enough for about seven servings

Method: What to do

Toast oats in oven, spread out on a tray until they develop a slight golden colour

Chop cranberries and macadamias roughly

Combine all other ingredients with oats, macadamias and cranberries

Serve up a bowl and enjoy your delicious yet nutritious muesli with your choice or milk or yoghurt and fresh fruit if desired.

 

Paleo Alternative

Why it’s good

Walnuts contain almost double the antioxidants compared to other nuts such as almonds and pistachios. They also contain the omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. EPA is renowned for its protective effects in the cardiovascular system whereas DHA is important in brain and eye health.  

Pecans, like other nuts, contain a plethora of healthy fats and minerals. Contrary to popular belief these fats actually improve weight loss and reduce weight gain. This is because eating a diet high in healthy fats (and low in carbohydrates) helps our body switch from burning sugar to burning fat for energy. An additional benefit of these fats is that we stay fuller for longer as these fats suppress the ‘hunger hormone’ ghrelin.

Cacao powder, the unrefined brother of cocoa, is a good source of magnesium and antioxidants but still provides the chocolate hit we all crave. Recent studies have shown cacao to improve pancreatic beta-cell functioning (the cells responsible for producing insulin). Increasing cacao (while limiting sugar) may improve blood glucose levels and reduce your risk of developing type II diabetes.

 

Ingredients: What you need
  • 1 cup of chopped raw walnuts
  • 1 cup of chopped raw pecans
  • 1 cup of shredded coconut
  • ½ cup of macadamias
  • ½ cup of sunflower seeds
  • ½ cup of pepitas
  • 1 tablespoon of maple syrup, rice malt syrup or honey
  • 1 tablespoon of coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons of cacao powder

*This recipe makes enough for 7 servings

Method: What to do

Mix ingredients together. It can be easier to mix the coconut oil, syrup and cacao powder together first before mixing it with the nuts and seeds. Spread onto a baking tray.

Toast muesli in oven on a low-medium setting for 10 minutes, stirring half way through to ensure even toasting.

Serve up a bowl and enjoy your delicious yet nutritious muesli with your choice of milk or yoghurt and a few mixed berries if desired.

 

 

 

 

References:

Martin, M.A., Ramos, S., Cordero-Herrero, I., Bravo, L., & Goya, L. (2013). Cocoa phenolic extract protects pancreatic beta cells against oxidative stress. Nutrients, 5(8), 2955-2968, 10.3390/nu5082955.

Feinle-Bisset, C., Patterson, M., Ghatei, M.A., Bloom, S.R., & Horowitz, M. (2005). Fat digestion is required for suppression of ghreline and stimulation of peptide YY and pancreatic polypeptide secretion by intraduodenal lipid. American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism, 289(6), 948-953, https://doi.org/10.1152/ajpendo.00220.2005.

Prior, R.L., Lazarus, S.A., Cao, G., Muccitelli, H., & Hammerstone, J.F. (2001). Identification of procyanidins and anthocyanines in blueberries and cranberries (Vaccinium spp.) using high-performance liquid chromatography/Mass spectrometry. Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry, 49(3), 1270-1276, 10.1021/jf001211q.

Ho, H.V.T., Sievenpiper, J.L., Zurbau, A.L., Mejia, S.B., Jovanovski, E., Yeung, F.A., Jenkins, A.L, & Vuksan, V. (2016). The effect of oat beta-glucan on clinical lipid markers for cardiovascular disease risk reduction: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Federation of American Sciences for Experimental Biology, 30(1), 10.3945/ajcn.116.142158.

Herbal Tea as Medicine

Herbal Tea as Medicine

As we head into the cooler months, a warm cup of tea in our hands can be a real blessing. But aside from being a tasty beverage, herbal teas can also be a great way of getting our medicine. Plants contain all sorts of phytochemicals, antioxidants, minerals and vitamins that are good for us in a general sense as well as having more specific actions on certain systems of the body.

 

History of Herbal Teas

Before the advent of modern manufacturing processes and herbs coming to us in tablets or brown bottles, herbal tea was the major way herbs were delivered as medicines. In many cultures around the world, households kept some basic dried herbs in the cupboard for simple ailments and this 'folk medicine' was passed down from generation to generation. Herbalists were often midwives or lay healers and often also in charge of spiritual matters in their communities. During the middle ages however, there was a push from the Church to gain more power and the practice of herbal medicine and healing was forbidden and many herbalists were persecuted and much knowledge was lost.  Over the past couple of hundred years, modern medicine has slowly gained power and prestige and despite many modern drugs coming from plants, herbs have lost much of their place and respect in the world of medicine. Despite this, the World Health Organisation (WHO) still classifies herbal medicine as an important, effective and viable medicine for most of the world's people who have limited access to modern pharmaceutical medicines.

Bringing Back Herbs to the Household!

Many of us use both fresh and dried herbs in our cooking - and this is a simple form of food as medicine. But having a range of simple herbal remedies as teas in the cupboard is still a good way to care for yourself and your family for basic common health complaints. While herbs do not offer a replacement for modern drugs in every condition, having some basic knowledge and remedies on hand can give you other options and alternatives to mainstream approaches for simple complaints such as colds, coughs, digestive disorders, stress and sleep issues. Herbal teas are also great for children as they provide a gentle and safe option that is effective but without the side effects of some modern medicines.

Herbal Tea as Medicine

There are two main methods to make a medicinal tea - using dried or fresh herbs and boiling water. Plants contain different constituents in different parts of the plant - active parts can be found in the roots, the bark, the leaves, the berries, the flowers. Some constituents are easily dissolved in water, while others are not. Thus the preparation method employed in making a herbal medicine is important - and the best method will make it most potent and effective.

Infusion

An infusion is what we usually think of when we think of making a tea. Simply pouring about 1 cup boiling water over 1-2 teaspoons of dried herbs is how to make a basic herbal tea infusion. Infusions are best for leaves and flowers that are more delicate and yield their active constituents easily in boiling water - and ones that contain essential oils are readily captured and not destroyed by simple infusions.

Fresh plant infusions are also possible with fragrant herbs like lemon grass, mint, lemon myrtle, lemon balm and they tend to be milder in taste and concentration. With fresh plant material, we tend to use a bigger volume as it already has a lot of moisture content. Chop or crush a decent handful of fresh herbs per cup of boiling water.

Decoction

​​​​​​​Decoctions are when herbs are simmered over low heat over a period of time (usually for at least 5-10 mins) to extract more of the constituents. Decoctions are best employed with woody stems, barks and roots that need a longer processing time to release their medicinal actives. There are some herbs that teas or decoctions are not suitable for, as the active products are not readily extracted in water. Alcohol is a better solvent in this regard - such as for certain resins and gums.

 

Cleansing tea - great for detoxing!

I have created different herbal blends that I make up from organic high quality herbal teas as well as some single teas. These teas offer tasty and effective medicine or a range of common conditions:
  • Lung and Cough Tea
  • Relaxation Blend
  • Digestive Blend
  • Cleansing Tea Blend
  • Lactation Tea
  • Peppermint or Spearmint
  • Raspberry leaf
  • Dandelion root or leaf
  • Nettle leaf

 

So next time your in the clinic, go grab a pack of herb tea - you will find it is vastly different from the tea bags you get at the supermarket and it will offer you a simple home remedy too!  I can also post teas out to you - details and purchase options can be found here.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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

 

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!

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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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