Monday, 30 April 2018

Do you suffer from premenstrual syndrome and what can do you do about it?

Many women treat premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and other menstrual irregularities as a normal part of their life.  In reality, menstruation should not cause any significant interruption to your everyday life.  If you experienced symptoms of PMS, painful, heavy or irregular periods, it means that your reproductive system is not functioning as well as it should be.

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is the most common female hormonal imbalance, affecting more than 75% of women at some stage of their lives.  PMS normally occurs in the second half of a woman’s menstrual cycle, between ovulation and the onset of menstruation.  Psychological symptoms of PMS include mood swings, anxiety, irritability, nervous tension, depression, forgetfulness, poor concentration, fatigue or even insomnia.  Physical symptoms can include weight gain from fluid retention, abdominal bloating, headaches, libido issues, constipation and/or diarrhoea.

PMS normally occurs as a result of imbalances in female reproductive hormones, particularly, low levels of progesterone throughout the cycle with elevated oestrogen levels during the second half of the cycle.  It can also be related to “bad” oestrogens and not enough “good” oestrogens.  High levels of another hormone, prolactin may also be involved.

How do you balance your hormones?
You can use a range of herbs and nutrients to correct hormonal imbalances.  Vitex agnus castus has been shown to assist in the management of PMS symptoms by reducing high amounts of prolactin and normalising progesterone levels.  Vitex can also help with irregular periods.  Vitex can work synergistically with other herbs to manage painful, heavy or irregular periods and PMS symptoms such as headaches, sore breasts, fluid retention and abdominal bloating.

If you suffer from mood swings in the second half (luteal phase) of your menstrual cycle, bupleurum and peony can be useful.

Other natural ingredients which may help to maintain a healthy oestrogen balance include:
·                Flaxseed balances good and bad oestrogen;
·                Turmeric which offers potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity;
·                Folic acid, vitamin B6 and B12, which assist the processing of oestrogen in the body.

Apart from herbs, some simple changes to your diet and lifestyle can greatly improve your menstrual cycle:
·                consume a diet rich in fibre which includes fruit and vegetables;
·                increase the intake of good fats such as those from nuts, seeds and fish;
·                drink lots of water (1-2 litres a day);
·                keep yourself active with regular exercise;
·                stop smoking;
·                reduce excess fat;
·                limit salt and saturated fat intake; and
·                reduce caffeine and alcohol consumption.

PMS and other menstrual irregularities are not a normal part of life.  These symptoms are common but common does not equal normal.  You don’t have to put up with the discomfort or pain.  Don’t let your monthly menstrual cycle hinder your ability to do your favourite activities and enjoy life!  Herbs and nutrients, with the appropriate dietary and lifestyle changes can let you take charge of your menstrual cycle again.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

2018 Environmental Working Group Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has published the produce with the most pesticides on them (also termed the Dirty Dozen) and the produce with the least pesticide residues on them (also known as the Clean Fifteen).  The lists are as follows:

Dirty Dozen in decreasing order of dirtiness:
1.              Strawberries
2.              Spinach
3.              Nectarines
4.              Apples
5.              Grapes
6.              Peaches
7.              Cherries
8.              Pears
9.              Tomatoes
10.           Celery
11.           Potatoes
12.           Sweet bell peppers

The newcomers are pears and potatoes and cucumbers and cherry tomatoes got dropped off the list!  Spinach is all the way in second place, so beware of those pesticide residues if you use spinach in your smoothies all the time.  Grow your own or buy organic!

Clean Fifteen starting with the cleanest:
1.              Avocado
2.              Corn
3.              Pineapple
4.              Cabbage
5.              Onions
6.              Sweet Peas
7.              Papaya
8.              Asparagus
9.              Mangoes
10.           Eggplant
11.           Honeydew
12.           Kiwifruit
13.           Cantaloupe
14.           Cauliflower
15.           Broccoli
I’m very pleased to see broccoli make it to the Clean 15 list!

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Alkaline diet: why do we need it and how do we have it?

There are many diets out there, and you are probably not alone in trying to work through the minefield and decide which is the best for you.  Should you be keto, paleo, vegan, vegetarian, mediteranean and the list goes on.  There needs an element of individualisation according to your genetic tendency and lifestyle needs.

An alkaline diet is a diet that is high in fresh vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts.  A review in the Journal of Environmental Health 2012 showed that alkaline diets reduce morbidity and mortality from chronic diseases such as arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes and loss of bone density.

Our blood runs in a tight pH band of about 7.36-7.40.  Our body goes through great lengths to maintain stable blood pH.  A lower pH means our body is acidic, a higher pH means it is basic.  We want to maintain a neutral to slightly alkaline pH.  Alkaline diets have been shown to be beneficial for maintaining good blood pressure, preventing formation of kidney stones, build stronger bones, reduce muscle wasting, lowers chronic pain, boost vitamin absorption and help weight loss.  (NOTE:  do not confuse blood pH with stomach pH.  The stomach is the only part of the body that should maintain an acidic pH to allow digestion to pass through efficiently.)

The total acid load in our diets from our hunter gatherer diets to our current modern diets has increased dramatically.  Our foods have significantly less potassium, magnesium, fibre, essential vitamins and antioxidants and have significantly higher sodium, processed fats and refined carbohydrates.  This causes electrolyte imbalances and acidity.

How to keep an alkaline diet:
  1.  Buy organic foods that have been grown in an alkaline soil.  If you grow you own fruits and vegetables, give the soil enough essential minerals and seaweed.
  2.  Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, they are best bet to increase alkalinity.  Fruits and vegetables like beetroot, cucumber, cabbage, spinach, carrots, beans, alfalfa, barley grass, celery, watermelon, figs, tomatoes, mushrooms, lemons, grapefruit and kale.
  3. Eat plant based protein like almonds, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, tempeh, tofu, sunflower seeds and hazelnuts.
  4. Reduce intake of acid forming foods, keeping it to no more than 25% of your food intake.  These foods include animal meat, shellfish, dairy, eggs, deli meats, peanuts, walnuts, grains and its derivatives, breads, and baked goods.
  5. Decrease processed and refined foods, sugar, coffee, carbonated drinks, alcohol and cordials.

Precautions and Implementation of Alkaline Diet

It is important to keep a balance of alkaline and acid forming foods.  Some acidic foods like eggs, fish and walnuts have much to offer in terms of nutritional benefits like essential fatty acids and antioxidants.  We are aiming for a healthy balance.  Eat a variety of real, whole, unprocessed foods like fresh fruits and vegetables and limit consumption of packaged and processed foods and beverages.  Should you be drinking alkaline water or bicarbonate of soda to alkalise?  The short answer is No.  Whilst short term studies done on subjects drinking alkaline water and bicarbonate water showed an increase in pH, these studies have not tested the long term effects and addressed the potential of the alkaline fluids in neutralising stomach pH that can cause more problems with pepsin and delayed protein digestion and acid reflux.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Are you at risk of a heart attack or stroke from your painkiller?

The NZ Herald last month published increased risk of a heart attack or stroke from just 4 weeks of use of 5 different painkillers – ibuprofen, celacoxib, mefenamic acid, diclofenac and naproxen.  The trials were done on a large sample size, 56,000 people with hypertension (high blood pressure).

The published study noted that the risk of a cardiovascular event like a heart attack or stroke from 4 weeks of use ranged from 1 in 104 adults to 1 in 394 adults.  There were no significant statistical incidence difference between the 5 drugs.  The events were documented when patients were hospitalised for strokes, heart attacks, TIA and angina.  This has cardiologists calling for tougher control on these Non-Steroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) as some can be purchased from the supermarket from as low as 20 cents per tablet. This puts patients with hypertension at a higher risk if they also suffer from pain and are using NSAIDs to medicate their pain.

In light of this risk, what can you do to deal with pain?  There are many natural options to address the problem.  Natural interventions like acupuncture, massage and frequency specific microcurrent are great methods to reduce and alleviate pain.

If pain is constant and repetitive, address the cause of it - is it from an inflammatory diet that does not agree with you?  Do you have an intolerance that repeatedly trigger the inflammation? Do you have lifestyle habits that are inflammatory?  If you do, change them.

Some of the things you can do include:
  1. Eat a diet high in fresh vegetables and fruits that agree with you.  For some people consuming the vegetables in the nightshade family can increase their pain.  Nightshades include tomatoes, potatoes, capsicum, eggplant and tamarillos.
  2. Reduce intake of processed foods – even if it says high fibre or five star health rating on the packaging.  Most people start of their day with highly processed breakfast cereal that converts to sugar easily and get their inflammatory process brewing. 
  3. Cut out sugar – in all forms.  Sugar is inflammatory.
  4. Breathe and oxygenate – oxygen is crucial to life.  Deep breathing into the abdomen rather than just shallow breathing (like when we are stressed) will help.  If you are shallow breathing because of stress, practice mindfulness, yoga or download some apps to help de-stress. 
  5. Consult your natural health practitioner for herbs and supplements that will tailor towards the type of inflammation and pain you are experiencing- i.e. is it muscular, joint, glandular, headache, abdominal, etc.

Please do not just cover up the symptoms of pain with a band aid like NSAID as it may cause you a major cardiac event!

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Why do women gain weight after menopause?

Weight gain after menopause is a common observation, even in women who are slender pre-menopause. There are many reasons for the weight gain.  The change of life where the reproductive years of a woman end, means that the ovaries will reduce dramatically its production of sex hormones and hand this job over to the adrenals to do it.  The adrenals do not make quite as much hormones as the ovaries do.  As fat cells are little endocrine organs, a body hungry for estrogen can make more fat cells to get more estrogen.

For women who have had a rough adrenal ride pre-menopause, (stressed, busy and tired) having the adrenals take on the additional burden can mean more cortisol and more weight gain in the abdominal area.

At menopause, the levels of progesterone also drop.  A drop in progesterone can affect water balance and fluid retention.  So clothes can feel tighter, ankles can be puffier and the rings don’t tend to slip in and out so easily anymore!  Some of post menopausal weight gain can be water and not fats.  Running body composition tests like the Bioimpedance Cellular Health test is useful to identify what the body composition and cell quality is.

With hot flushes and night sweats, women often complain of disrupted sleep which makes them fatigue during the day.  This can result in more food intake to combat the tiredness, which can result in weight gain.  Bad food choices can result in more weight gain. Mood swings can affect motivation to keep active and maintain a regular exercise routine.  Exercise improve the production of endorphins and insulin sensitivity which are crucial to maintaining a healthy appetite and curb cravings.

What can you do about it:

  1. Eat foods that contain phytoestrogen like soy and alfalfa.  Studies done on Japanese women who consume a high quantity of soy, in soy sauce, miso and tofu find that these women do not typically have menopausal symptoms.
  2. Use herbal and nutritional supplements that will help balance estrogen and progesterone, including black cohosh, vitex, bupleurum, rhodiola and withania.  However, due to the effects herbs have on the body, it is not advisable that these herbal supplements be taken long term without monitoring.  Please seek the advise and help of a health care professional trained in herbal medicine. 
  3. Practice yoga and meditation.  Yoga is calming as well as strengthening, which is a great balance for this time of life.  Reduce stress, give support to the adrenal glands.
  4. Practice high intensity interval training at least 3 times a week.  If you have a favourite sport, like tennis or netball, keep yourself active and maintain a routine for exercise.
  5. Avoid alcohol, soft drinks, fruit juices and sugar.
  6. Consume a diet high in vegetables, adequate amount of protein for your activity, and plenty of water.
  7. Have enough good fats from avocado, raw seeds and nuts, cold water fish and olive oil.
  8. Do an AMY1 test, to see how much carbohydrates you can tolerate in a day.  We offer this test.  Ask for it if you are interested.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Five-spiced Chicken with Goji Berries

4 pieces boneless skinless chicken thighs
Handful of curry leaves
1 head of broccoli, cut into small florets
2 tablespoons of goji berries soaked
2 cloves garlic
½ tsp five spice powder
1 tsp salt

Marinate chicken thighs in five spice powder and salt for at least 30 minutes.

Mean while, put oil in a pan and fry curry leaves until fragrant/ golden. Set aside.

Heat some olive oil and sauté garlic until fragrant and add broccoli florets in.  Put a dash of tamari to season and add drained, soaked goji berries in.

Fry marinated chicken thighs in a pan, 10 minutes on each side until juices turn clear (not pink).  Serve with broccoli and goji.  Sprinkle prepared curry leaves on top.  Serves 4.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Which sugar is good for you?

There has been a lot of publicity of late regarding sugar and its relationship with the diabetes and obesity epidemic.  All sugars affect your insulin balance and metabolism.  If you have diabetes, candida, yeast or fungal infections, autoimmunity or are having a battle with your waistline, all sugars should be avoided.  Artificial sweeteners (zero calorie sweeteners) are no better solutions as they can be toxic to your body.  One in three adult New Zealanders is obese, and this is a serious health crisis.  If you fall into that category, please avoid all natural and artificial sweeteners.

However, if you are a healthy adult, you can have some natural sugars from raw honey or maple syrup.  For both these sweeteners, choose the darker varieties.  NZ active manuka honey is known for its non-peroxide antibacterial activities, which is unique and has been proven to react against Staph aureus.  All honeys contain peroxide antibacterial activity.  Honey is high in fructose (with some sucrose and glucose), as well as minerals and vitamins.  Honey is also a demulcent which soothes the mouth and throat.  But, if you are diabetic, insulin resistant, FODMAP and/or overweight, you should not consume honey.

Maple syrup is a natural sweetener from the sap of the maple tree.  It is rich in minerals, particularly sodium, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc and manganese, vitamins and polyphenol antioxidants.  Maple syrup is high in sucrose (with some fructose and glucose).  It has a lower glycemic index than table sugar and less processed.

On the other hand, there is agave, table sugar, artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup.  These sweeteners are a no go, because they are low in antioxidants, some are even artificial, as the name suggests and toxic, so using them to sweeten will just raise your blood sugar, crease an insulin spike, without any other added benefits of antioxidants, minerals or nutritional benefit.

And the whole idea of sugar free?  You need to be cautious!  If you see the label “Sugar Free”, always check if there are artificial sweeteners.  Technically there is no added sugar, but the product is still sweet.  The only acceptable sugar free substitute is if it is sweetened with Stevia or Lovia which typically are plant based sweeteners, Stevia from the stevia plant and Lovia from combining Buddha’s fruit and stevia.

Avoiding processed foods is a good way of avoiding added sugar.