Preventative Health

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

5G safety concerns

5G Safety Concerns

As a health care provider, I have been an active advocate for reducing exposure to wifi devices and mobile phones for many years, and have closely followed the research into the various potential health impacts of this technology. You can see other articles I have written and my webinar for more detailed back ground information on this topic. As it is a constantly changing landscape with new technology coming onto the market all the time, it is time to write an update, particularly on the 5G network and related technology...

Of recent concern, is the imminent launch of the new 5G technology, which is being promoted as the vehicle that will deliver faster wireless speeds for mobile and internet users and will also spur new innovation for internet-connected devices. The internet-of-all-things (IOT) encompasses the new technological vision of a whole swathe of internet connected devices from self driving cars to smart devices and that is fast becoming a reality across the globe.

The new 5G network that is starting to be rolled out across many different countries will be substantially different than the existing 4G networks. This new technology employs waves of  different electromagnetic frequencies  - using a bandwidth of between 24-100 GHz, compared to 3-6GHz used in the current 4G network.

These smaller waves, know as millimeter-wave frequencies are more easily blocked by objects in the environment, such as trees and buildings, which necessitates erecting many small 'cell towers' around 100-500 metres apart to support the network. This means that dozens of these mini cell towers will likely be installed in your neighbourhood. Aside from been unsightly, these devices will continually emit millimetre wave frequencies and bathe neighbourhoods in radiation 24/7. Plans are also underway to install satellite cell towers in space that transit 5G technology, meaning that virtually no place on earth will be free from the impact of these unproven and potentially hazardous frequencies. Moreover, the delicate electromagnetic frequency of the earth, also known as Schumann resonances, may be influenced by this technology with unknown consequences on human and other biological life forms that have evolved on earth alongside this particular frequency and phenomenon.

Scientific literature has found that ambient electromagnetic fluctuations on the planet, such as geomagnetic activity, may affect the physiology and behaviour of  humans and other species. In particular the heart, brain and nervous system are highly sensitive to EMF. Research has found that EMF both from man-made and natural sources, can cause disruption to cardiac function and melatonin output by the pineal gland.* Adding a new frequency into the earth's atmosphere and locally on the ground with this new 5G infrastructure, it is impossible to predict the possible changes in life rhythms and biological functioning of different species on the planet, particularly at a time when we are already facing unknown consequences from imminent and rapid changes in climate conditions.

Scientists, doctors, allied health professionals and environmental experts from all over the world have banded together to express concern for this unprecedented change to the environment and potential human health impacts, with the 5G Space Appeal.  Research has conclusively shown that electromagnetic frequencies affect living organisms at levels well below most international guidelines, causing increased cancer risk, cellular stress, increases in free radicals, genetic damage, autoimmune disease, changes to the reproductive system, infertility, learning and memory deficits, cardiovascular and heart arrhythmias, neurological disorders, as well as disrupting the circadian rhythm of diverse life forms. The 5G technology and its high-frequency waves are absorbed into the skin and reach deeper into the body with sweat ducts potentially acting as antennas*. While some authorities argue that it is only a transient and surface penetration, my concern is the sheer magnitude and volume of the 5G tower network, that has the potential to be far a more pervasive and persistent exposure on the human body, than the current 4G technology. After all, 5G frequencies are already used in military protocols in the world's major defence departments as an effective non-lethal crowd control device known as the Active Denial System. The heating of the skin that these frequencies cause, creates an intolerable burning sensation that causes people to panic and flee.

Electrohypersensitivity syndrome(EHS) is now a known condition recognised by the WHO, diagnosed when people develop a range of health issues connected to exposure to electrical and electromagnetic frequencies. These individuals find it increasingly difficult to live in the modern wireless world and suffer from headaches, brain fog, heart palpitations, unexplained fevers, extreme fatigue, immune disorders and pain syndromes. Magda Havas PhD is a biologist, researcher and lecturer, who estimates that around 3% of the population have severe reactions to EMFs and another 35% are potentially compromised by EMF and experience symptoms such as poor sleep, anxiety, depression, brain fog and poor concentration.  Here is one personal case study that provides a detailed account of living with EHS.  It is impossible to know or even predict the potential implications for both the health and environmental impacts of 5G technology until we start to see the issues arising post roll out. As a health professional, it is difficult to ascertain the level of exposure and the unique sensitivity of each individual to these types of technologies and EMF. Many mysterious health issues that have no clear medical diagnosis may indeed be the result of cellular changes occurring in response to these frequencies.

The regulatory body in Australia (ARPANSA) whose job is to keep the Australian public safe and informed about radiation based issues, receives money from the telecommunication industry, posing an alarming conflict of interest. Moreover, their recent media statement on 5G seems to be out of step with the mounting evidence for EMF and specific health impacts. While they state they will continue to research frequencies above 6GHz, it seems that in the meantime we will remain the guinea pigs as this technology is being rolled out before the research has proven its safety.

Also of increasing concern is the fact that telecommunication companies have been making legislative inroads into federal government jurisdictions, to fast track the rollout and effectively eliminate local councils and the public's right to protest against or reject this technology being installed in their own backyard, school, workplace or neighbourhood. Interestingly, government documents on this issue seem to be largely concerned with safety of information and security of data rather than addressing health concerns and public safety.

It is time to get involved and help stop this new technology from being rolled out before it is proven to be safe for human and other life forms!

Sign the Australian petition to have your say....

And the 5G Space Appeal 

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Let's research and employ safety standards for human and environmental health first before rolling this new technology out!

 

 

* References for further reading:
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2656447/#!po=9.37500
  • https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/00207459108985440
  • http://www.spirit-science.fr/ArchivesScientifiques/2001cherry-schumann-resonances.pdf
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29459303
  • https://principia-scientific.org/study-human-sweat-ducts-act-as-antennas-for-5g-radiation/

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!

 

 

lymphatic system

Lymphatic System

A key player in immunity, detoxification and overall health!

The lymphatic system is one that is regularly overlooked when it comes to health. Comprised of a complex interrelated network of vessels and lymph nodes as extensive as the cardiovascular system, the lymphatic system is vital in maintaining our life force. The lymphatic system also includes the organs of the spleen and thymus gland as well as the tonsils and adenoids – highlighting its importance in immune function as well.

The lymph and its special role in regulating an entire host of functions, has historically held great importance in cross cultural medicinal traditions. Hippocrates, the father of both western and herbal medicine, was the first ever to document what we now know as the lymphatic system in the Hippocratic treatise ‘On Glands’or Peri adenon.  Since ancient times our knowledge of the lymphatic system has deepened although much of our understanding remains the same. Hippocrates postulated that lymph glands both attracted and received fluid and that the fluid or moisture in the body caused these lymph nodes to become overfilled in times of illness and imbalance. Contrast this to our current understanding and it is clear that not much has changed. Our current understanding of the lymphatic system’s role, though much more detailed than what Hippocrates first proposed, includes fluid regulation, waste removal and filtration and immunity.

 

Fluid Return

Our lymphatic system is the little brother to our cardiovascular system. Our heart and blood vessels work hard to deliver much-needed nutrients and oxygen around our body. Due to complicated reasons, the exchange of blood that happens at our tissues results in a little more fluid being given to our cells than received back by our blood vessels. This difference in fluid is where the lymphatic system comes in. The lymphatic vessels collect this extra cellular fluid and return it to the heart via a complex network of vessels and lymph nodes.

Without a proper functioning lymphatic system, fluid accumulates resulting in swelling and oedema. In naturopathic philosophy there are certain constitutions that are more prone to lymphatic congestion. If you find you are prone to swollen lymph nodes and oedema there are certain things that can be done to support your lymphatic system.  However, please note that if you are experiencing oedema of any kind it is best to talk to your medical practitioner to rule out any serious health conditions.

As the lymphatic system is comprised of vessels that run towards the heart, for most of the time the flow of lymph is fighting against gravity. Unlike the blood vessels that are aided by the strong muscular force of the heart beat to transport blood, the lymphatic vessels rely on a more passive process of muscular contractions to help direct the flow. This is why lymphatic swelling is usually located in the lower limbs – it is hard work moving against the downward forces of gravity. Manual manipulation can be used in cases of insufficient lymph flow to support the return of fluid back to the cardiovascular system. As the lymph vessels are located superficially – quite close to the skin surface, gentle pressure is best. Ways to support the lymph flow manually include a specific type of massage, known as lymphatic drainage massage, usually perfomed by a remedial masseuse or alternatively dry skin brushing that you can do yourself.

Dry skin brushing is a traditional technique used and recommended by natural health practitioners to encourage the drainage of lymphatic vessels. It involves applying a light amount of pressure to the skin using a soft-bristled brush in long stroke motions towards the heart. (NB: we sell these dry skin brushes over the counter at Noosa Holistic Health).

Another lifestyle recommendation that has been shown to improve lymphatic flow is movement. As mentioned above, muscular contraction aids the flow of lymph, so a sedentary lifestyle can aggravate lymph congestion. Whereas engaging in mild to moderate exercise – including simple walking and yoga, causes the muscles surrounding lymph tissue to contract helping to push the lymphatic fluid towards the heart thereby promoting clearance. Rebounding, which involves bouncing on a mini trampoline, is an excellent exercise to promote lymphatic flow as the gentle movements work against gravity.

There are certain herbal remedies with an affinity for the lymphatic system and fluid balance, such as dandelion leaf, calendula, red root, violet and cleavers. Incorporating herbal teas into your diet and ensuring you are drinking enough water are gentle ways of supporting lymphatic flow. For a more tailored and therapeutic approach consulting a naturopathic physician may be more appropriate for longstanding lymphatic congestion. 

 Immunity & Toxin Clearance

Lymph nodes are bean-shaped organs situated along the lymphatic vessels. There are approximately 500 lymph nodes within our bodies ranging in size from 1mm to 4cm. Their job is to filter unwanted pathogens such as bacteria and viruses from the blood and toxins from the environment. Sometimes lymph nodes become overwhelmed from the pathogens they are trying to destroy or the toxins they are trying to clear. High levels of bacteria or viruses might get trapped in the node, but due to an insufficient immune response these pathogens are not dealt with effectively. Likewise, if we are exposed to a higher burden of pollution or toxins, there may be a localized swelling as the toxins are cleared.  Both of these issues can result in lymph node swelling. Painful lymph nodes usually occur during infection whereas lymph node swelling not associated with pain or tenderness can be a sign of certain types of cancers. In cases of chronic lymph node swelling not associated with infection, it is best to consult your doctor for further investigations.

As the lymphatic system is so intrinsically linked to our immunity it is important to not only support the flow of lymph but also the immune system when addressing lymphatic congestion. It should come as no surprise that eating foods high in antioxidants and fibre supports your immune system. When fighting infection both the immune system and the bacteria and viruses themselves can produce chemicals and toxins that promote inflammation. Antioxidants help reduce this inflammation and promote healing. Usually most people think of fibre for improving gut function and regulating bowel motions. In addition to these actions, fibre also provides our healthy gut microbes with food. About 80% of our immune system resides in our gut and is influenced by the microbes that inhabit our colon. Supporting a healthy microbiome (the collective term for our friendly inhabitants) also supports a healthy immune system.

Given our current lives, most of us do not get enough sunlight to support the production of vitamin D. Vitamin D plays an important role in regulating our immune system and there are other important health benefits from exposure to natural sun light and full spectrum light. An article detailing the importance of sunlight exposure and vitamin D can be found here.

So all in all, a healthy diet, fresh air, regular exercise and keeping hydrated with pure water, will go a long way to support our lymphatic system – one of our most important, but often overlooked pathways of detoxification and immune function. If extra support could be beneficial for you to promote specific aspects of immunity or detoxification, then consider a tailored approach of herbs and nutrients to optimise your lymphatic system by seeing Karen for an appointment.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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

 

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.

 

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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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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