Suite One, 34 Murwillumbah Street, Murwillumbah NSW, Australia

Olwen Anderson's Blog

Life without cling wrap

Saturday, July 07, 2018

It’s one of the really big questions of life you might ponder while stretching plastic wrap over a freshly cut piece of pumpkin: what did we do with pumpkin pieces before cling wrap appeared on supermarket shelves in the early 1960s?

Turns out someone else has been thinking the same, with a recent reality television show examining how we used to live over each of the past sixty decades. A particularly interesting series because it seems we were somehow better nourished and less unwell as a population in the middle of last century. According to the Australian Institute of Health & Welfare’s latest report, half of us are now living with a chronic health condition. What was different then with how we managed our nutrition?

All it took was a sneak peek at the show’s trailer to supply the answers: there were two big differences in the way food was managed. One was the refrigerator: much smaller than modern models, less efficient, and the available freezer space was the size of a shoebox. As a result perishable food had to be purchased almost daily from the butcher and greengrocer; no need for cling wrap then. Plus, vegetables were often grown in the back yard, to pick fresh for the pot.

Keep in mind that fresh food begins to lose its water soluble vitamins and life force as soon as it is picked. The fresher the food that’s on your plate, the higher its nutrient content. So the way people shopped for and stored food back then automatically supplied more nutrients than what you could spear on your fork today.  Maybe that’s one reason they were healthier.

Of course we can’t go back to grocery shopping every day or so. Modern life isn’t like that for most of us, and fewer of us work in full time home management. But there are a couple of ways you can help ensure that your meal contains more nutrients. One is to utilise your local farmers market, where the awesomely fresh produce has often been picked only the day before.

Another is to grow your own vegetables and fruit. This isn’t as difficult or time consuming as you’d think. Even if you have a small courtyard or patio there are miniature gardening systems available that could supply your daily salad. Maybe, through small changes in how you manage food, you’ll never need to buy cling wrap again.

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Why do we keep catching new flu viruses?

Saturday, June 30, 2018
It’s the war with no end in sight. Each year a new crop of influenza virus appears seemingly out of nowhere. Catch it and the outcome for you is oceans of mucus, dragging aches and pains, and many days of work lost. You may wonder as you’re snuggled in bed with a box of tissues, hugging your hot water bottle, whether your immune system has been slack on the job. 

Why didn’t this apparently sophisticated collection of defence cells recognise the virus as soon as it landed on you, and overpower it? But your immune system isn’t being lazy; viruses have a cunning strategy: an ever-changing wardrobe of disguises. 

Once it gains entry to a cell, a virus heads straight to the control nucleus where the DNA codes are stored. If it’s fast enough, it will disengage the emergency signalling too. You see, if a cell knows it’s been invaded by a microbe it will usually alert the immune system that it’s infected – so destroy me. The immune system obliges: goodbye cell, and goodbye virus. Gotcha!

Viruses hide within cells because that’s there they reproduce and disguise themselves, creating new virus particles ready to explode the cell like a popped balloon when conditions are right (like if you’re tired and stressed). Each virus particle finds a new cell to take over, and the cycle continues. 

Your immune system creates a list of ‘viruses I recognise’. When it comes across a familiar virus, it prods your defence mechanisms into action. This takes time – longer the first time, but the second time the virus appears your immune system recognises and destroys the bug faster. However the flu viruses’ disguise can elude the immune system’s memory. Sneaky.

So next year, when a new flu virus invades our immune system thinks it’s seen this one before and launches the same defence. But the virus particle often escapes detection through that new camouflage. So the immune system doesn’t respond with appropriate vigour. Over-reaction, after all, would create quite a bit of collateral damage. So the response is too weak and you get to experience the symptoms.

We haven’t yet found a way to outwit the flu virus, so your best defences from a natural health perspective are to optimise your self-care through winter with rest and nourishing food, and keep your favourite flu-busting herbs on hand, especially those specific for tackling influenza viruses, whatever their disguise.

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The two dollar therapist

Saturday, June 23, 2018
Some weeks are so eventful you could keep a therapist busy for hours. So much happening around you or to you and life just presses on, busy as ever. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to talk it through with someone who won’t pass judgement on what you disclose?

If you have a good friend who can do this for you then you are one very lucky person. Ideally you would also have a therapist to turn to for help when life gets too eventful and you feel like you just need to talk. You know that just expressing is going to help you untangle your thoughts. But not everyone can afford to reach into their pockets for a professional listener like a counsellor, psychologist or psychotherapist. So what can you do then to work through those feelings?

You may actually have some tools on hand right now. One is paper and a pen, which you can pick up for under $2. Writing helps because you once you can get those thoughts out of your head and express them in words, they begin to unravel enough for you to gain new perspectives. There are no rules around this – you could choose to write pages and pages, or just create a brief bullet-point list. You can choose to save what you’ve written and return to it later, possibly gaining even greater understanding as a result. Or you can choose to burn or drown what you’ve written. 

Another way to express your feelings is through art. For some folk the ultimate form of therapy is to pick up a canvas, paints and brushes, and get immersed in expressing how they feel. 

Yet another form of expression is through dance. Here, you could close the blinds and switch off your phone, switch on the music and use your body to physically express what’s happening inside your head.

What can you expect to get out of this? Possibly a sense of relief that your head isn’t about to explode from the pressure of unexpressed feelings. Maybe a new perspective, greater understanding of what happened, why you did what you did or why ‘they’ behaved that way. And perhaps you’ll just feel better, inexplicably. Worth trying out, perhaps? Like I said, there are no rules about how you’re supposed to do this.

And if you’re still feeling stuck? Well, you could engage your professional listener. We’re here to help.

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"The Extra Tag Needed On An Emergency Services Uniform"

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Call off the search for the holy grail of diets

Saturday, June 16, 2018
Quite some time ago we farewelled the scientists as they departed on a quest for the holy grail of nutrition. Equipped with test tubes and armed with theories, they sought out the one perfect diet that would suit everyone.

Messengers brought back bulletins of their progress. First they had found proof that low fat was the way to go to prevent heart disease. So those of us keen on living longer, better lives duly complied and opted for skim milk instead of full fat. 

But it didn’t work. Low fat eating wasn’t particularly satisfying, inadvertently increased sugar intake, and obesity rates rose. Until a new directive arrived: That low fat eating is too high in carbohydrates. Switch to full fat everything, and reduce your carbohydrate intake. Steak was back on the menu; what a relief. But that diet wasn’t perfect for everyone, either.

Then came instructions to adjust our meal sizes. To think about rationing calories a couple of days a week and eating normally the other days (the 5:2 diet). The intention?  To mimic the way our ancestors lived back when there wasn’t a constant over-abundance of food.
With each new pronouncement most of us have adjusted the contents of our supermarket carts in the hope of a longer, healthier life.  But there’s a catch: whatever the current recommendation, it won’t suit everyone.

I think it’s time to call off the search. Maybe accept that everyone as individuals need a different diet. Instead of trying to fit into a protein/carbohydrate/fats combination rule, perhaps the better approach could be to develop the [insert your name here] diet. The food combination that suits your particular physiology. 

How can you find out the best eating plan and nutrient balance for you? Some folk look to the traditional diet of their ancestors, who gradually adapted to their geographic locations over centuries. For example, consider the different traditional diets of an Eskimo versus a Pacific Islander. Both work. Some people like to arrange genetic testing to reveal the best nutrient combination for them. And still others like to establish their ideal diet through trial and error.

Any one of these approaches could suit you. So if you find yourself sighing as you read yet another report about the ‘right’ way to eat, maybe it’s time to switch to reading something more enjoyable and get on with working out  the right diet for you.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Getting off the FODMAPS diet'

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Getting The Dose Right

Saturday, June 09, 2018
“I tried those natural remedies and they didn’t work”. I wish I hadn’t heard this statement as much as I have over the years. Especially when as the conversation progresses it emerges that the disgruntled one wasn’t taking a therapeutic dose, making their self-exploration of natural therapies futile.

The ‘therapeutic dose’ is technical speak for taking enough of a herb or nutrient to actually make a difference. The dose at which treatment becomes effective has often been discerned through a combination of laboratory research and clinical experience.

Fish oils are a great example of challenges with dosing that most people don’t know about. Depending on whether you purchased a high strength or low strength product, each capsule will contain a certain proportion of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), the fatty acids that do the work. The rest of the capsule is made up of just plain oil.  A high strength fish oil will contain about 600mg of EPA and DHA in every 1000mg capsule. A low strength fish oil about half that. 

The amount of EPA and DHA required to ease a chronic health condition like arthritis varies widely, but from my experience a therapeutic dose means at least 1800mg of EPA/DHA per day. That’s three high strength capsules. So if you tried one low strength fish oil capsule per day for your arthritis and wondered why it didn’t work, this could be why. Mental health or acute rheumatoid arthritis treatment may need up to 5000mg EPA/DHA per day. 

Your practitioner goes through a similar process as we just did with other natural remedies like herbs, vitamins and minerals: Assessing the therapeutic dose required then measuring this against the intensity of the presenting condition.
The dose point is different for everyone: some folk are more sensitive and only need a tiny dose or do best on the energetic remedies instead. Others need the robust herbs and high dose nutrients to make a difference.

You can get an measure of what dose of nutrients you need from organic acids testing, a relatively new functional test that examines what’s left over in your urine from biochemical reactions. From this a calculation is done of how much you need of each nutrient. This is particularly handy when you’re treating a chronic problem that needs ongoing management.

So don’t give up on natural therapies just because your self-prescribing didn’t work. Maybe talk with an accredited naturopathic practitioner next time.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy "Getting The Right Dose of Fish Oil" 

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Can you afford to get sick?

Saturday, June 02, 2018
A visitor to our building might notice some unexpected activity:  practitioners disappearing into another therapist’s room. Closing the door. An hour or so later they both emerge, and the visitor looks even better. Nothing suspicious going on though; each of us is calling in on each other for treatments. 

The massage therapists are exchanging treatments, but so is everyone else: acupuncturists, the kinesiologist, the naturopaths and cranio-sacral therapist. There’s an important reason why this happens: All of us are self-employed, and like all business owners we know that if we get ill, income stops. We’ve learnt that it pays to look after ourselves diligently.

If you are also self-employed, you know that when you can’t work, you don’t earn. There’s no paid sick leave in self-employment. And yet some self-employed folk can tend to burn the candle at both ends and avoid doing what they know they should do to stay well. 

There’s a subtle, insidious pressure that all business owners experience. We know that succeeding in business is tough: you’ve got to take risks, keep an eye on the cashflow, juggle a multitude of demands, manage the marketing...the list never ends. You could conceivably work 24/7 and still not cross everything off your to-do list. So it’s always a temptation to overlook your health in favour of work.

You don’t need to spend a fortune on treatments to keep yourself in good shape and your business ticking over. Just practising the basics of good health will help keep you working. Simple steps, like making sure you step away from those cashflow calculations early enough to get a solid eight hours sleep. To pick up a salad with some high quality protein for lunch instead of a sausage roll, and avoid turning to coffee and sweet stuff to keep pushing through the day. To choose to strap on your training shoes for a run even when you’re tempted to spend that extra hour focused on the marketing plan. To switch off your mobile for 20 minutes each day, allowing for uninterrupted meditation. 

You know that without solid self-care it’s too easy to succumb to the flu or any of the other illnesses you could fall prey to more easily if over-work and under-fun has already run you down. 

It’s all about learning to strike a balance between working hard and self-care. Are you looking after your health enough to keep working?

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy "Help Business Owners Eat Healthy"

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You're not a machine, so why approach your health as if you are?

Saturday, May 19, 2018
“Biopsychosocial”. Now there’s a big word. Doesn’t exactly roll easily off the tongue, does it? And yet this convoluted expression has been popping up more, thanks to a growing realisation: that none of us are machines.

The traditional approach to physical health problems has been to address them as if your body were a mechanical instrument: when some part or another malfunctions approach repairs as though it were a malfunctioning spare part. For example, the mechanical approach is to a depressed mood is to chemically change your brain neurotransmitters. But what’s happening with your mood might have less to do with your brain chemistry and more to do with how you’re feeling about your lack of purpose in life or your unsatisfying relationships. So just changing your brain biochemistry won’t address the root of the problem.

The term “biopsychosocial” is short for a biological-psychological-social approach: a wholistic way to assess your wellbeing and a guide posts to treatment for illness, particularly chronic illness. This approach considers that how you manage your physical body affects your health, but so does your emotional health, and the health of your relationships with other people. Even your work. They all affect one another.

One example of this connection is feeling fatigued. You might have the best diet in the world, but if you’re unhappy at work your body is likely to express this in some form. If your relationship at home is struggling, you wouldn’t be surprised to experience some reflective physical problems (like stomach problems from the stress). And if the community you’re living in is dysfunctional (to use an extreme example, if you’re living in a war zone), you could expect your physical and emotional wellness to be affected. What biopsychosocial means for you is that in order to get healthy, it’s important to look after your body, certainly. But just as important to pay attention to how you feel emotionally, and what your relationships are like with other people - including your community.

Want to explore this in relation to your own health? Grab a piece of paper, draw three overlapping circles, and in each circle write down how your physical health is, what’s happening with your emotions, and what you think of your relationships. Then consider the overlapping parts: could your emotional health or relationship issues be affecting your physical health? You might notice some interesting connections that could help you find the best treatments to get better.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy "Being Connected To Your Community Can Help You Stay Healthy"

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Dodge the persuasive trap of bro science

Saturday, May 12, 2018
There’s a new force in science that some people are finding far more credible than their practitioners. It’s earned the label “Bro Science”: the health advice dispensed by close friends that seems believable but might not be real. Whether that advice is accurate or not is a moot point; true believers of Bro Science find the pronouncements of their friends far more convincing than their qualified health practitioners. 

Here’s an example of Bro Science in action: A fellow fitness fanatic at the gym mentions some new product he’s found that will help you get the results you aspire to. It might be an imported supplement that can only be purchased online because it’s not available in Australia. Your practitioner, hearing of your new supplement, might point out that this particular product is actually rather dangerous, and that’s why it isn’t sold here. But if you’re an adherent of Bro Science, you might decide that your practitioner doesn’t know as much as your mate about these things. And besides, all the “proof” that it’s safe is online. Isn’t it?

The traps of Bro Science are everywhere: You’ve probably seen social media posts listing foods you “must not” eat, exercise you “must do”, or “science says…”.  But you’re actually a savvy health consumer; so when you hear a new claim pause, take a deep breath, and ask yourself “where’s the evidence for this?” Because online health ‘advice’ might just have been created on the fly. Just click bait.

One of the most useful skills you can acquire in managing your health is critical analysis. We all have a tendency to believe what’s told to us, particularly when it comes from someone we like and admire.  Trust is a powerful persuader. Words are powerful persuaders too, and words in print are easily given more power than they sometimes deserve by virtue of being in print. Nowadays we have access to mountains of information online, but our ability to assess what we’re reading perhaps hasn’t yet caught up with the pace of publishing in cyberspace.

What do you do then, if your good mate tries to convince you of some Bro Science that really isn’t plausible? Appreciate their concern for you, absolutely, but do your due diligence too: Look for links to peer-reviewed research articles backing up the claim, and maybe talk it over with your health practitioner, who can help you decipher whether that health claim is genuine.

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The power of pets to boost your health

Saturday, April 14, 2018
You’ve probably seen them out and about: Striding along with heads held high, clearly relishing the whole experience of exercise outdoors in the fresh air. Oh, the myriad of stimulating sights, new sounds and intriguing smells! At the other end of the lead will be their owners, maybe enjoying this experience as much as their pets, maybe not. Who is taking whom for a walk? Who can tell…

It’s easy to see how owning a dog could help you get fit, because that dog will take you out walking, with joy, as soon as you pick up the lead and doggy bag. Sure makes it easy to walk regularly when you know you’ll have company. And dogs are unique amongst pets in that they’re always pleased to see you, always up for a walk, and can even help you make new friends at the dog beach. Unlike cats, who can be moody and don’t much like walks. Nor being on a lead.

But could a dog support your health too? It turns out that dogs seem to have an innate ability to detect the physical and emotional state of their owners, sometimes before the person themselves is even aware they need extra support. So therapy dogs or assistance dogs are becoming a more frequent sight, accompanying children with autism in challenging situations, people with diabetes, veterans with post-traumatic stress, even assisting in counselling sessions to comfort distressed clients. 

We’re already familiar with guide dogs with leather harness strapped on, helping their sight impaired handlers navigate their way through the world. Dogs are so helpful in so many ways they’ve even had a book written about them, “Dogs with Jobs”: Dogs are out there helping people in need with no expectation of reward beyond time for play.

Some research has been done into the benefits of dogs to ease blood pressure, boost the immune system and relieve stress. So far they’ve decided that there just might be some benefits to pet ownership. Avid dog lovers, though (you know, the people who can’t imagine life without dogs) would disagree: of course owning a dog is going to do you good, they’d claim!

So if you’re being told to exercise more by your health practitioner, there’s some four-legged trainers who would love to help you get fit again. And if your mental health is struggling, maybe a furry friend could help there too.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'Natural Therapies For Mental Health'

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Food intolerance mystery insights

Saturday, December 09, 2017
When your stomach doesn’t feel good, it’s natural to think back to what you last ate and blame that – particularly if your last meal was yet another end-of-year function with catering of dubious quality. 

Although it’s tempting to attribute the tummy rumbling, gas and bloating to what you ate recently, if you have food intolerances you actually need to think about what you ate over the last four days; because your immune system will tolerate a certain amount of a problem food, and only when you exceed your limit within four days that the symptoms might ignite.

The way it works is predictable in some ways and not in others. The IgG immunoglobulins are the The immune system patrol members responsible for managing food intolerances. These immunoglobulins will allow a certain amount of a problem food substance to pass by unchallenged. But exceed that self-imposed limit within four days, and the battle begins. 

Immunoglobulins call in extra support against this ‘invader’, sensitive cells become inflamed, the normally tight barrier in your bowel wall becomes porous, which means the battle can spill over into your bloodstream. What you might experience from this are symptoms like odd rashes, bowel discomfort, mood changes and the like.

There’s another, complicating element to this situation too. When you are under stress (i.e your cortisol levels are elevated), your immune system has less tolerance for problem foods than it usually does. Translated into real life, let’s look at a common food intolerance culprit, dairy. Your first exposure (perhaps with party pizza) is unlikely to cause problems. Consume more dairy the next day (an ice cream, maybe) and you could be getting close to your body’s upper tolerance. Let’s imagine the day after that you enjoyed a cheese tasting function and exceeded the IgG limits. 

Now your tummy might start rumbling or that odd rash re-appears; the one you’ve never quite been able to find the cause of. As long as you don’t have any more dairy for a few days, your symptoms are likely to diminish. But unless you’re savvy to what foods your body tolerates, and doesn’t, you might be unfairly blaming just the final dairy exposure, the cheese platter, for how you’re feeling.

The key to remaining ahead of your food intolerances is, when you experience the sense of “that food didn’t agree with me”, think over what you’ve eaten for the past four days, not just one.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'Identify Your Food Intolerance', here

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Olwen Anderson @olwenanderson


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