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Olwen Anderson's Blog

The magic of chia seeds

Saturday, October 15, 2016
Fashions in foods come and go. There was the excitement about kale, then perhaps everyone became a little bored and shifted focus to coconut as the super food of the moment. But one fashionable food hasn’t yet been over-hyped: chia seeds. 

Not much scientific research has been done so far on chia seeds, apart from dissecting them for their nutritional components. They contain 30% good oils, but they also contain a large amount of protein (about 20%) and lots of fibre (5g in every tablespoon). There’s a little carbohydrate but not too much, and almost no sugar. Plenty of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. A pretty powerful food when you dissect the data. 

Scientists have posed questions yet to be answered: Could these seeds be useful for improving cardiovascular health, hormone balance and glucose tolerance? 

Chia seeds are already well known amongst naturopaths as a most useful tool in the quest for better bowel health. They contain a great deal of soluble fibre; which means they create a lovely soft gel-like texture as they soak up fluids. A soft, gentle and yet effective fibre supplement. Soluble fibre also readily soaks up toxins released by your liver into bile, and carries them out of your body.

Although chia has long been part of the traditional South American diet, it’s only been a few years that this plant has been available in Australia. Perhaps one reason they’ve take a while to catch on is because we’re just not used to them. They’re not yet part of our recipe repertoire. 

You can buy a small quantity of chia seeds from the bulk foods store to try them out. Doesn’t matter which colour (black or white). One delicious process is to create a simple chia ‘pudding’. Take one tablespoon chia seeds, stir into a quarter cup of coconut cream, add a tablespoon of water and combine. If you have it on hand, a quarter teaspoon of vanilla paste is a nice addition. After a few minutes, stir again. Within 30 minutes you’ll have a creamy pudding texture that you can now enjoy as it I,s or enhance with some fresh fruit.

Other ways to use chia include adding it to your muesli or enhancing your stir-fries. Some people add it to their smoothies (but aren’t smoothies supposed to have a smooth texture?). Whichever way you try them, chia seeds could be a super food trend worth joining.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'Fast Fibre Find'

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Take a peek into the pulses pantry

Saturday, October 08, 2016
lentils boost your salad nutritionI must have missed the memo. The United Nations declared 2016 to be the international year of the pulses, in recognition and celebration of their contribution to human nutrition. So although the year is almost over, perhaps a peek into the pulses pantry could be rewarding for us.

Pulses (or legumes, or beans if you will) are easy to overlook. They’re the Clark Kent of the super foods, incredibly powerful and yet seemingly frumpy. With some culinary finesse though, they transform into their true selves, a veritable Superman-level super food.

Much of the world depends heavily on pulses for their protein content. We in the developed world, with our relatively convenient access to animal protein, can easily overlook the value of legumes to boost our own nutrition.
Pulses can offer you a lot: At about 8% protein, they don’t have the spectacular protein content of animal meat and seafood (20%), but it still supports your protein intake. There’s also high quality carbohydrate that releases its energy slowly, supporting better blood glucose control. Each pulse contains a vast range of vitamins and minerals, enough to start a new plant. 

The fibre content of legumes is spectacular, and yet it’s what makes them controversial too. The ease with which some pulses can promote flatulence too easily turns diners away, and yet there are ways to avoid this unsocial reaction, because some pulses are less challenging for your digestion than others. In a nutshell: to avoid embarrassment, minimise the kidney beans, and don’t start your exploration of pulses with large servings. 
So, how do you transform beans into food? Some of them (particularly the lentils) make fast meals. Others, like the larger chick peas and haricot beans require some forethought with soaking and cooking. Whichever variety you choose, there is a vast range of ways to enjoy them. A quick internet search of traditional and modern recipes can inspire you to try new dishes.

For the best taste and texture, bypass the cans and buy your pulses dried. Take the time to prepare them traditionally. Take note of our ancestor’s practice of including high fat foods with some bean dishes. Cook the more labour-intensive dishes like bean stews in bulk and freeze in portion sizes.

Whether it’s baked beans with your breakfast, some tangy hummus dip with your afternoon tea, or some lentils scattered through your salad, adding pulses into your diet can boost your nutrition in so many ways. 

Ready to try out some recipes? Why not start with home made baked beans or a lamb & lentil salad, 

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Combat the expanding belly of middle age

Saturday, October 01, 2016
Late middle age can produce some unexpected body changes. Like your stomach, which can begin to precede you through doorways. Expand enough to peep out between your waistband and shirt hem. Produce a tyre-like protuberance to rest your cuppa on in front of the TV. What’s happening here? You aren’t eating any more than usual, and your exercise routine hasn’t changed. But you’re wondering if you now need to shop more for leisurewear with elasticised waistbands or give in to larger sized clothes.

Your hormones could be to blame. As your age increases your reproductive hormone production declines. Estrogen (for women) and testosterone (for blokes) used to supervise the process of deciding the fate of energy from food; but without their direction your body is no longer so thoughtful with energy management.

In your youth, reproductive hormones studiously directed energy from food towards muscle cell growth, and towards organ tissue maintenance. It was all in the name of keeping you as strong as possible for reproduction and parenting. Without these biochemical supervisors on hand your body just isn’t diligent about keeping your muscles and tissues in good shape. Instead, like a lazy worker without an attentive boss, your body will now just shove the energy into fat cells. Especially on your abdomen.

If you’re keen to prevent your belly growing further, here are two key ways to help compensate for your diminished hormone levels.

First, watch your sugar and grains intake particularly, as in excess they promote insulin resistance that favours fat accumulation. Check you’re eating vegetables at every meal, and include high density nutrient sources like nuts and animal protein from eggs, fish and meat. Organs like your liver, stomach and intestines now need more minerals and vitamins anyway because they’re no longer as effective extracting them from food.

Avoid the ‘tea & toast’ that many people can slip into as their children leave home and their partner passes on; it’s just not good enough nutrition to sustain you, and it will actively promote more fat cell development. That creates an even tubbier tummy.

Secondly, you can deliberately stimulate your muscle cells to grow through exercise; particularly strength training. Muscle cells are good at ordering in nutrients and energy when they’re being exercised, redirecting glucose that would otherwise have found its way to your belly. 

Alas, late middle age is where the old truism ‘use it or lose it’ becomes all too real.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'How long (and how well) are you likely to live'

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Prostate health with games and vegetables

Saturday, September 24, 2016
image credit Krosseel via MorgueFileHats off to whoever created that new fun prostate diagnostic toy – the Pee Ball. The inventors must have realised how important prostate checks are, how much blokes like ball games, and how unwilling they can be to do something about urination troubles.

Fun as it no doubt is for men to compete at games involving both urinals, prostate health is important business. Not just from the perspective of serious illness potential, but because urination difficulties stemming from prostate enlargement (or BPH) can really cramp your style.

 As middle age passes and your testosterone levels decline the resulting hormone imbalance acts like a growth promoter on the prostate gland. Not surprisingly, quite some laboratory time has been devoted to researching who is likely to experience BPH. Optimum nutrition has been one area.

Even a brief dip into the published literature reveals a lot of research focused on specific foods and food groups – particularly vegetarian diets versus red meat consumption. Results are conflicting, and the studies have sometimes been over-focused on just one food group.

One study suggested high consumption of red meat and dairy predisposes you to prostate cancer. They also pointed out, sensibly I think, that people don’t eat just one kind of food for long periods of time, so blaming just one food type for prostate enlargement isn’t helpful. The upshot of it all is that increased vegetable consumption promotes prostate health.

Despite this, there probably aren’t enough vegetables on your plate. The Australian Institute of Health & Welfare claim that 95% of Australians don’t eat their five serves each day. You might be one of them, or not.

Presuming you want to aim for a healthier prostate (and not just to win the Pee Ball competition), here’s how to translate the science into real life: make vegetables a priority at each meal. Think about the vegetables you might like with breakfast (tomatoes, mushrooms, baked beans), with lunch (a big mixed salad) and at your evening meal cover half the plate with a mixture of vegetables. 

Once vegetables are sorted, only then add in the protein and carbohydrate components of your meal. Perhaps some egg and toast to accompany your breakfast vegetables, some seafood and potato to go with your evening vegetables. 

More vegetables on your plate could even help you to stay at the top of the leader board in the Pee Ball competition. Their web site, along with the game is at 

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Better nutrition for a man's weak spot - his prostate' 


Tantamango-Bartley et al (2016) Are strict vegetarians protected against prostate cancer? American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 103:153-160

Willet, W (2003) Lessons from dietary studies in Adventists and questions for the future' American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 78(suppl)539S-43S

Image credit: Krosseel via MorgueFile

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Managing the pointy end of the year

Saturday, September 17, 2016
Juggling demands in the lead up to christmasWell, that pulled me up. The brightly coloured packages of fruit mince pies stacked as high as my supermarket trolley. What were these doing here, just after Easter? At first I thought they’d made a mistake; that these were the final leftovers from last Christmas, reduced to clear. But the calendar said otherwise. It’s September. I knew what this meant.

Over the years I’ve become accustomed to seeing more of certain problems present in the clinic in different seasons. Spring brings hay fever; winter means more cold and flu cases. And Christmas has its own special category.

From about this time (when the Christmas goods begin appearing in stores) until the first week of January (when it’s all over) I notice our collective stress levels rising. There’s plenty of triggers: The financial stress of gift and entertaining expectations. Family tensions, particularly if you know you’ll spend Christmas Day with people you don’t much like to spend time with. Not the people you’d really rather be with. Negotiating custodial arrangements for children. Experiencing the discomfiting things other people do when they’re stressed: like when they get angry over nothing much, or just plain grumpy. Then there’s the dog-eat-dog shopping centre battlefield over car parking spaces. 

No wonder we all start to get a little more overwhelmed and stressed than we’d like to be. But there are ways to help yourself cope. So since the shop displays suggest that Santa event comes up again in just over 12 weeks, let’s get some strategies in place.

The first is to be aware you can experience some pretty unpleasant feelings; but they’re just that - feelings. Feelings are not facts, but if you let them, they can direct what you say and do in ways you might regret later. Switching off each day for meditation can help you regain your perspective and control. Some talking therapy through counselling could help you talk through what you’re experiencing.

Another key strategy is exercise, because it burns off stress cortisol. No, you’re not too busy to exercise, so please don’t try to tell yourself this little fibby.

Finally, keep reminding yourself that many other people are feeling just as tense as you are – so why not cut them some slack for their sometimes odd behaviours. And if seeing the Xmas goods on sale becomes just too much, it might be time to switch to online shopping until January.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'How to handle an imperfect Christmas'

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Exercise: How much is enough, really?

Saturday, September 10, 2016
How much exercise is enoughAs you cheer along with the Rio Olympic events, it’s hard not to feel inspired by the athletes who made it to the top through years of rigorous training and discipline. Might have even motivated you to strap on the runners or pull on a bathing cap yourself.

You know that exercise is good for you. Spending your life on the couch is likely to make you sick, and yet over-training can be damaging. How much exercise is enough, and yet not too much? Researchers at the University of Queensland reviewed the current research, concluding that, really, the recommended minimum isn’t enough.
The World Health Organisation had pronounced that only 20-30 minutes of brisk walking each day is enough to avoid serious health problems. Researchers suspected this was a little too lenient and crunched the data. Their analysis concluded that, actually, you need to do several times more to access the protective benefits exercise provides. They also found that if you do too much is damaging too.

How do you know whether you’re doing enough training, or too much? 

If you spend your days on the couch in thrall to your television it won’t surprise you to learn you’re more likely to develop diabetes; your muscles will shrink, your bones weaken. Despite this constant rest you could feel tired all the time.

Get more active, though, and you’ll notice you’ve got more energy. Your mood becomes brighter and more stable. Stress is easier to manage because you’re burning off cortisol. Muscles grow again to boost your metabolism and support insulin regulation. The weight-bearing exercise stimulates stronger bones and your joints lubricate themselves. Your sleep is likely to be more refreshing too.

But if you overdo the exercise over-use problems can emerge: Deep fatigue from lack of restorative rest. Injuries develop too easily and take forever to heal. Immunity weakens. Hormones are unbalanced.

How can you work out whether your exercise regime is too little, too much, or just the right quantity to make a positive difference? The litmus test is to notice what your body is telling you. If you’re no longer waking refreshed from sleep, or if your resting pulse rate keeps rising, it’s possible you’re over-training.

Professional help from a qualified and accredited fitness trainer can be really useful to help you assess your fitness objectively. You don’t have to become an Olympian, but you can probably use more exercise than you think.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'The Secret To Making Exercise Happen'


Kyu et al (2016) 'Physical activity and risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and ischemic stroke events: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013' The BMJ 2016:354:i3857 doi 10.1136/bmj.i3857

Image credit: Dodgerton Skilhause via MorgueFile

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How long will it take to rebalance my hormones?

Thursday, September 08, 2016
hormones take time to rebalanceWe’re so accustomed to instant gratification these days, it can seem reasonable for our bodies to respond instantly after starting treatment. But when it comes to re-balancing your hormones, there’s a time frame I’d like you to keep in mind: Three months. Although you can certainly expect some relief from your symptoms well before then, it’s important to give your treatment time to enable a sustainable change.

Hormone changes are slower because there are so many feedback checks and balances going on, and so many glands involved. It’s like having your body run by a committee. Your hypothalamus and pituitary glands in your brain are constantly sampling hormone levels and responding. But the hormones they secrete have to travel through your body, then locate the cells displaying receptors that fit before they can pass on their message. The cell takes action, but it can take a while for the master glands in your brain to hear about it. 

For PMS or period pain, your symptoms are likely to become more manageable within the first cycle. But for complex hormonal conditions like PCOS, endometriosis, perimenopause, or menopause, treatment time is longer as there are more body processes involved.

Women often become trapped by the expectation of instant results, particularly when it comes to self-prescribing; if you do this there isn’t a practitioner on hand to let you know the likely response. Often, too, self-prescribers focus only on the symptom relief (like hot flushes) when other factors are powerful influencers; like a sluggish liver, unrestrained stress, chronic inflammation.

You can speed up your recovery though to help improvement happen faster: 
  • Exercise helps, because it addresses the insulin resistance that’s behind so many hormonal problems. 
  • Support your liver through choosing fresh unprocessed foods over alcohol, caffeine and fast foods. 
  • Extra fibre through vegetables boosts your levels of sex hormone binding globulin, a protein that pulls excess hormones out of circulation. 
  • Meditation and other mindfulness-based practices reduce your cortisol levels – that creates a very positive cascade of both physical and emotional improvements. 
  • Go to bed early enough. 
  • Eat a protein-based breakfast to support stable blood glucose levels through the day. 

Supplements may be needed; but relying on them to do all the work for you is likely to make your recovery frustratingly slow; the solution is rarely just one supplement or just one corrective action for a hormonal problem.

After three months of treatment (presuming you’re doing the work!), when you’ve got to where you want to be, we’re likely to begin gradually withdrawing support, as your hormones may now be able to hold their own. 

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Balance Your Hormones with Linseed and Legumes'

Image credit: Pippalou via MorgueFile

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Smoke alarms of your health

Saturday, September 03, 2016
Being woken by a smoke alarm would have to be the ultimate ‘get up and go’ tool. If you’ve ever experienced this, as I did last night, you know how fast the noise and the adrenalin surge can wake you; and how long it takes to calm down so you can return to sleep. 

What set it off? Who knows – no smoke, no fire. But then it began to chirrup, to let me know that the battery was out of juice.  For whatever reason, your columnist hadn’t complied with the recommended practice of annual battery replacement. Now fully alert and cursing my slackness I asked Mr Google the important question: Why oh why do smoke alarm batteries fail in the middle of the night when the shops aren’t open? Why not during standard business hours?

Google helpfully advised that if your battery is almost flat it’s more likely to fail in a cold atmosphere. Power generation is temperature-sensitive. Since its cooler at night, this is why you’re more likely to be woken by a disgruntled smoke alarm in the early hours of the morning. Just what happened.

If I had been more conscientious about replacing that battery I wouldn’t have had to go through this experience that did nothing to improve my relationship with my neighbours.

Like smoke alarms, our bodies send us subtle messages from time to time to let us know that maintenance is needed, to prevent big health problems developing.

Initially, your body sends subtle messages of a problem:  Like deepening fatigue.  Stiff or painful joints. The myriad signs of a less-then-optimum digestion. Or the people who know you well complaining you’re just not yourself lately.  Ignore these problems and the signs from your body are likely to get louder, more persistent and intrusive.

You could stop, take stock, and seek out a professional check-up. Make some changes and return to complete health. Or you could choose to carry on regardless, hoping that you’ll get away with inaction. And you might. But you could soon find yourself in an uncomfortable and regretful position as I was with the smoke alarm, wishing I’d taken the preventative steps to save me a lot of trouble and inconvenience.

Time to ask the question: Is your body sending you any important messages about your health?

Now I’m off to apologise to my neighbours for waking them. And purchase a new battery for that smoke alarm.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'Staying on top of your health challenges' 

Image credit: Alvimann via MorgueFile

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Meet the pacemaker cells of your gut

Saturday, August 27, 2016
outhouse by lisasolonynko via morguefileHow irritating it is when your life has been controlled by the toilet for quite some time. Frequency and urgency are often the most problematic aspects of IBS, and yet they’re often the last symptoms to disappear as treatment progresses. Blame a particular type of nerve cell embedded in your bowel wall.

They’re the “interstitial cells of Cajal”, pacemaker cells of your intestines. Discovered in 1893 by the pathologist Santiago Ramon y Cajal, their job is to send slow-wave electrical impulses to the smooth muscle that pushes food along the digestive tube leading from your mouth to your anus. The development of electron microscopy some 30 years later enabled scientists to confirm that despite being nerve cells, the interstitial cells of Cajal do their own thing regardless of what the main nervous system is doing.

Embedded in the bowel wall as they are, these cells are vulnerable to damage when sensitive bowel tissue around them becomes inflamed, infected or irritated. They become inflamed too, and can’t do their job to keep your bowel timing under tidy control. The result can be frequency, urgency, or constipation. Perhaps this is why IBS sufferers meet with such debilitating bowel symptoms as urgency and incompleteness that calls them back to the toilet three times in an hour. And why constipation can be so difficult to shift.

Knowing that the cells of Cajal can be restored means there’s the prospect normal bowel timing can be restored; but to enable this any chronic low level inflammation within the bowel has to heal. This can be particularly important for people with recurrent diverticulitis, whose bowels may not recover completely before the next flare-up. When you’re recovering from a diverticular flare-up, feeling better than you did is good, but you need to persist with treatment until you’re completely recovered. It’s too easy to get used to feeling not-quite-right.

Understandably, when it comes to healing tissue the original irritant or infection that’s driving the inflammation needs to be addressed; whether it’s from recurrent diverticulitis, bowel infections, or reactions to certain foods.
Natural therapies for healing the digestive tract include herbs, nutrients and homoeopathic remedies; and, understandably, avoiding foods that irritate a sensitive gut. Better stress management is essential too, enabling the protective mucous layer to regenerate. Your gut has amazing abilities to restore itself, but you need to provide the right conditions to help it heal.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Nine Clues Your Intestines Have a Functional Problem' 


Gfroerer & Rolle Interstital cells of Cajal in the normal human gut and in Hirschsprung disease Pediatr Surg Int (2013) 29:889897 DOI 10.1007/s00383-013-3364-y

Lee et all 2005 Decreased density of interstitial cells of Cajal and neuronal cells in patients with slow-transit constipation and acquired megacolon. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology (2005) 20,1292-1298 DOI 10.1111/j.1400-1746.2005.03809.x

Spiegel et al 2015 Development and validation of a disease-targeted quality of life instrument for chronic diverticular disease: The DV-QOL Qual Life Res 24:163-179 DOI 10.1007/s11136-014-0753-1

Strate et al 2012 Diverticular disease as a chronic illness: Evolving epidemiologic and clinical insights  Am J Gastroenterol 107:1486-1493 DOK 10.1038/ajg.2012.194

Image credit: outhouse by lisasolonynko via morguefile

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How anaemia and hypothyroid are connected

Saturday, August 20, 2016
fatigue can come from anaemia and hypothyroid“I’m so tired” – it’s a comment I often hear from women. There’s tiredness that’s relieved by a good sleep. Then there’s a different kind of fatigue, that won’t ease no matter how many hours you spend with your eyes closed.

Women seem particularly vulnerable to this kind of exhaustion thanks to our tendency to anaemia (iron deficiency) and hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland). But one influences the other: did you know that anaemia can be what’s behind your under-functioning thyroid? Here’s how each of them works:

Your thyroid largely determines how much energy your cells will generate, but it’s a complex process through producing thyroid prohormone T4, converting it to the active T3, and ensuring not too much reverse rT3 thyroid hormone is produced. Then there’s the input from your endocrine system supervisors, the hypothalamus and pituitary, which decide, based on feedback, how hard to push your thyroid gland to work. 

Iron is the mineral we all need to enable blood cells to absorb and transport oxygen. But iron plays a big part in other body processes too - including thyroid hormone production. Scientists discovered this through a novel experiment that I’m glad I didn’t participate in. University students were recruited and lowered into a warm bath, which was then cooled down. The participants spent enough time in that cold water to watch a movie the scientists thoughtfully provided to keep them entertained. Imagine spending your afternoon immersed in a cold bath, while researchers periodically check your temperature and draw blood. Ah, the things we’ll do for science.

Their study concluded that being deficient in iron does affect your thyroid hormones. There’s an iron-reliant enzyme that converts the prohormone T4 to the active thyroid hormone T3. Insufficient iron stores means the larger quantity of thyroid hormone needed when things get cold just isn’t available because the raw materials aren’t on hand to create it.

Curiously, it’s the ferretin form of iron that impacts thyroid hormone production. There are two different types of iron in your body – serum iron, which is what’s available for immediate use; and ferretin, which is stored iron which has to be converted to serum iron to be useful. A blood test reveals how much of each you have. 

So if you’ve got an underactive thyroid acting like a ball and chain on your energy, it might be advisable to check your iron levels as well.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy "Iron - The Mineral for Energy and Oxygen" here

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