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Olwen Anderson's Blog

How a moustache can help beat depression in men

Saturday, December 31, 2016
source Laura Musikanski via Morgue FileMovember, to me, is both disturbing and a great opportunity. Disturbing because I lived through the 70s and their questionable lurid fluorescent polyester fashions. Seeing moustaches sprout on upper lips everywhere this month takes me right back there. But these memorable moustaches are also a great reminder for us to pay attention to the way the men in our lives are feeling; but perhaps through a different perspective lens than women generally use.

Women are acculturated from childhood to use words to express how they’re feeling. So a woman feeling down in the dumps will pick up the phone, start a conversation. Talking helps her feel better. But men don’t always do this, and being aware of the different ways men and women communicate feelings could help you identify when a man in your life is struggling emotionally.

Many men are taught through our culture that talking about how you’re feeling isn’t acceptable. Subtle messages, like that movie hero image of the strong, silent man. According to the movie archetypes, it’s a sign of strength to remain silent. However it’s culturally acceptable for men to express those feelings through doings: A man is allowed to express regard and affection for someone in practical ways: fix their car, mow the lawn, get helpful to make your loved ones’ lives easier. Positive feelings are expressed in positive actions.

But how do you express negative feelings if words aren’t an accessible tool, but action is? Anger, perhaps. Silence, maybe. Or isolating yourself from other people. And as you can imagine, for a woman accustomed to expressing feelings with words this silence and anger can be mighty confusing. It seems like your man is angry because he’s acting angry. But that might not be what’s actually going on in his head. 

In counselling we have a saying: Under hostility you’ll often find pain. So if your bloke’s mood seems to be angry, he could actually be depressed. He just might not have the vocabulary to communicate it. Fortunately the website offers many words to help you get past a man’s habitual silence, enable him to connect in a way that helps those feelings get out and get sorted in a non-destructive way.

That’s the gift of Movember: Reminding us that men really do experience feelings, but may not have the tools to let us know they’re struggling. This website is the feeling toolbox for men.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Blokes Can Be Healthy Too'

Image credit: @lauramusikanski via MorgueFile

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Three ways to help ease pain in your osteoarthritic joints

Saturday, November 26, 2016
Pain’s pretty unpleasant. And pain in your osteoarthritic joints that progressively gets worse is especially distressing, for what it predicts: Pain promotes immobility, and reduced mobility can lead to the loss of living independently in the future.

Arthritic joints can deceive you into immobility. When you remain still they hurt less, discouraging movement. If lying still in bed is the only time you’re pain free, its tempting to stay there. But movement  stimulates the production of synovial fluid within each joint capsule, literally lubricating your joints and helping wash away waste products of inflammation that irritate nerve endings. 

Without activity your muscles turn to flab, your metabolism slows, mood slumps and weight can creep on. Core strength is lost, increasing the risk of falls. You know you have to move, but pain’s a great deterrent. What to do?
From a nutritional perspective, there are three things you can investigate. One is to see whether you’re sensitive to the deadly nightshade family of vegetables (including potatoes and tomatoes). In some people these foods aggravate osteoarthritis.

The second strategy is to assess whether you’re eating too much pro-inflammatory foods and not enough anti-inflammatory foods. Dairy, delicious as it is, can spark inflammation in the joints of susceptible folk. Green vegetables and fresh fruit have an anti-inflammatory effect.

The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 oils in your diet is the third strategy to investigate. Omega-6 oils can promote inflammation. Generally speaking, omega-6 (inflammatory) foods are found in foods developed in the post-industrial era: Grains, dairy, some vegetable oils, feedlot beef, fish farms fed on grain. Omega-3 oils with their anti-inflammatory effect are plentiful in oily (wild caught) fish, grass-fed beef, flaxseed and  green vegetables.
Want to investigate how much what you’re eating is sparking your arthritic pain? Try two weeks without dairy in any form, then review the proportion of green vegetables and wild-caught seafood in your diet. As your last experiment, try two weeks without potatoes or tomatoes in your diet.

What will you eat instead? Vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, free-range meat, wild caught fish, avocado, olive oil, organic eggs.  Real food; the kind that doesn’t come out of a packet.

Physical activity is important too:  the kind of exercises that get your joints moving without further eroding the joint cartilage. Your health practitioner is the best source for advice on the safest and most effective practical activities that can help.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Milk? Maybe not...' here

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The power and the perils of licorice

Saturday, November 12, 2016
“Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s safe.” You’ve probably come across this truism, and surprisingly, licorice, that delicious natural treat, falls squarely into this category: It’s natural but potentially very unsafe.  And since the root of this delicious herb is readily available in concentrated lolly-like form this could be a good time for us to review its power, and also the perils for your health if you decide to use licorice in therapeutic quantities without a herbalist’s guidance.

Licorice has many different actions in your body. As an adrenal tonic, it helps combat the low blood pressure of adrenal fatigue. Inflamed tissues like gastric ulcers are soothed by it. As a broad-spectrum anti-viral it helps combat colds and flu, and helps clear the floods of mucous that come with a cold. In a hormonal disorder like PCOS, licorice (combined with other herbs) helps block the excess androgen (male) hormones that can lead to facial hair and acne. Also, it acts as a ‘synergist’, which in herbal terminology means it’s going to potentiate the other herbs in a mixture.

It helps that licorice tastes so good, making it easier to take sometimes bitter herbal mixtures. That’s the good news: powerful and easy to take. But in large doses, or for a long time, licorice can cause some problems.

One of the controllers of your blood pressure level is the balance between sodium and potassium in your bloodstream. Licorice promotes sodium increase and potassium decrease, inducing an increase in blood pressure. Worse, it can help promote fluid retention too through influencing your kidneys. For this reason, people with kidney disease also may be advised to avoid licorice.  And this is why folk with hypertension shouldn’t take licorice because it so effectively lifts blood pressure

In the long term, licorice can upset your potassium balance enough to increase heart arrhythmia (palpitations), something menopausal women are vulnerable to. This is because potassium and sodium work together biochemically to help create the electric nerve impulses that control heart beat rhythm.

How much licorice is safe? That depends: The soft chewy sweets sold as ‘licorice’ often don’t have much real licorice in them. But if you often enjoy those concentrated solid licorice squares as a sweet treat, and you have some health issues like high blood pressure, kidney problems or heart rhythm issues, perhaps have a chat with your health practitioner before you pop another in your mouth.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'How Much Salt Is Too Much' here


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The party season stash

Saturday, November 05, 2016
I’ve got a couple of stashes ready for the party season – one at work, one at home. You might have a stash too. Nothing illegal here folks – I’m talking about managing the party season without losing all the hard work you’ve put in to improve your health since the last party season.

End-of-year functions can be lots of fun. It’s a chance to catch up with work colleagues. To thank the people and businesses who’ve supported you during the year. To confer awards. And just to relax from the stress of dealing with the pointy end of the year.

But parties and functions present a nutritional challenge. First, because when you go out you’re not eating your usual evening meal. Instead of meat and veg most nights, you’re eating finger food. There’s often alcohol too. Secondly, because you’re eating out more, you’re likely eating less of the salads, meat and vegetables that usually form your diet. Also, if you have a late night you might often feel too tired to prepare a healthy breakfast of eggs and vegetables. 

A few weeks of party eating can really erode your nutrition. Hence the ‘stash’: fast to prepare and eat meals to prevent function food becoming your evening meal. You know that if you arrive at a party ravenously hungry you’re likely to over-indulge in the delicious but rich and highly processed offerings.

Here’s how to create your own stash: Plan ahead. Stow heat ‘n eat portion sized home cooked meals in your freezer. Perhaps stock the fridge with hard boiled eggs to have on toast with tomato and avocado. At work, stash some raw nuts in your desk drawer. Consider a substantial snack of vegie sticks and vegetable-based dip in the late afternoon. Perhaps a smoothie will help save you from the aromatic fried food function platters. Even some hard boiled egg on toast with tomato is likely to be healthier than the fried food on a tray the waiter presents.

If you want to be really organised, think up some fast-to-prepare meals you enjoy and paste the list to your fridge door. Then when the dilemma of ‘what can I eat – fast’ arises the solutions are already there.

Your liver and your skin will thank you for this diligence with your nutrition; and with the extra nutrients in home-prepared food your nervous system will be better nourished, better able to support you through the busiest time of the year.

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

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Greens: The ultimate super food

Saturday, October 29, 2016
A selection of greensDon’t miss out on this great super nutrient! It will help your brain function better, assist your digestion to break down protein in food, support your bone marrow in producing healthier red and white blood cells. Help prevent cell mutations. You need lots of this nutrient, and twice as much during pregnancy. Surely, you’d think, something this powerful must be expensive, hard to access? Put your wallet down - it’s actually a simple nutrient, folate, which is most abundant in green leafy vegetables.

Like many of the nutrients our bodies rely on, folate comes in many different forms. It’s one of the B-group of vitamins, which are classified as ‘water soluble’. That means your liver will store a small backup supply but we really need to top up our supplies every day. Your intestinal microbes will contribute a little to your folate supply, but this is a fraction of what you can achieve with eating leafy green vegetables.

Like many aspects of a nutritious diet, it’s easy to think you’re eating more of the healthy stuff than you actually are. Perhaps that’s because consuming folate-rich foods is going to take time and effort. Salad greens have to be washed and arranged on a plate, then adorned with a dressing. Steamed greens have to be washed, cooked, the pot scrubbed. And leafy greens have a limited shelf life in your fridge before disintegrating into gooey green gunk. Perhaps this is why people can find it hard to eat enough greens; it’s one of the foods you just have to keep buying, washing, preparing and presenting to eat.

Want to know how much greens you’re eating now? Open the door of your fridge. Got some salad greens there? Some fresh leafy greens too, like silverbeet or kale? And they’re fresh? Then you’re doing well. If your fridge is devoid of greens then maybe your health could use a greens boost.

Here’s some tips to make it happen: a daily lunchtime salad helps. In the evening, cover half your dinner plate in freshly steamed green veg. Make it interesting: Drizzle a delicious dressing over your salad. There’s no rule against adding dressing or a topping to steamed greens. Select a variety of greens rather than just one, and select with the seasons so you’re eating a constantly changing array. 

You’ll get plenty in return for your effort; Eat your greens regularly and the health payoffs from this superfood are immense.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Helping Kids Enjoy Vegetables' here

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Sinus problems call for persistence

Saturday, October 22, 2016
Rhinitis by clarita via morguefileDid you catch a cold this past winter? If you did, you know how long it takes to really sweep away the last remants of snuffly nose symptoms or hacking cough; and how easily that acute illness can become chronic. You can find yourself still buying lots of tissues weeks or months later. Those bugs seem to have set up a comfortable home in your sinuses. Why is this?

Packed around and behind your nose and eyes, right up into your forehead, is a complex of interconnected cave-like arrangements that form your collective ‘sinuses’. So many crypts they have their own addresses: There’s the maxillary, sphenoidal, ethmoidal, and frontal sinuses, all with slightly different functions, but three big jobs: To create resonating chambers that amplify your voice, to warm and filter incoming air on its way to your lungs, and to wipe out incoming invading bacteria, viruses, fungi and allergens.  

There’s even a section called the turbinates, whose role is to swirl air around so that any suspect particles are more likely to get stuck in the mucous membrane. (Rather like your own internal cyclonic vacuum, don’t you think?)  The nerves powering your sense of smell are also located in one of the sinuses. 

All of these chambers are lined with mucous membranes, constantly producing sticky mucous to engulf unwanted microbes and particles, and also watery mucous to wash them out.  Residing here are the patrol team of your immune system, the immunoglobulins. Upon encountering the ‘enemy’, whether microbes or allergens, they respond to the threat by causing the production of even more mucus. Their aim: flush out the problem.  

When those mucous membranes become inflamed and swollen from fighting this battle, drainage can become blocked and pressure builds up. This is how a sinus headache can develop. Or you’ll have to keep employing lots of tissues to mop up the ongoing flood of mucous. Or both.

When you catch a cold, there’s likely to be a residual colony of bugs that would just love to get comfortable in one of the nooks and crannies of your sinuses. They can produce just enough ongoing discomfort to make your life miserable.  The longer left untreated, the more established the problem becomes and the longer it takes to wipe it out. 

This is one health problem that calls for persistence and diligence in treatment. So keep up your cold and flu treatment until your sinuses are completely cleared. Don’t let those bugs get comfortable.

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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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