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Olwen Anderson's Blog

Lessons from the plant hospital

Saturday, September 16, 2017
“I think we’d better keep these in for the week”. I admit to mixed feelings when the plant hospital wouldn’t let me take my office plants home. Well, they did look a little tired. Seems they needed re-potting and a nutritional boost of some microbes and fertiliser.  Indeed there is such a thing as a plant hospital – at least in Murwillumbah - and they’d been running a plant clinic.

If you’re a gardener yourself, or have house plants, you know how much they can lift a room. Being in a much-cared for home garden feels so uplifting, and spending time in nature can really calm and soothe your soul. Being able to gather vegetables for your next meal from your own back yard is priceless.  

Turns out that healthier plants produce more nutritious food too. I had the chance to talk with the plant experts and also do some research about soil health and the nutrient density of food. Plants rely on microbes to help them as much as we humans rely on microbes in our intestines to help us absorb food. Healthy soil leads to not just happier, but healthier plants too.

I wondered, too, is the health of the soil and its nutrient density reflected in the mineral concentration of the plants? Is this why, despite eating vegetables, we can still come up short on nutrients like zinc and magnesium?  A brief exploration of the peer reviewed scientific literature revealed that yes, the mineral density of crops has diminished over the years; for instance, a crop of modern wheat  harvested today doesn’t have the same concentration of magnesium as an old variety of wheat harvested several decades ago. (In case you didn’t already know, modern high intensity agriculture doesn’t use compost, just specific fertilisers to make the plants grow.)

This means that growing your own vegetables using nutrient-rich compost is now more important than ever, and could reduce your reliance on supplements to stay healthy. Maybe this is why our great-grandparents, fed by backyard vegie plots, stayed so healthy into old age. 

Also, keep in mind that organic growers routinely use more nutrient-rich materials like compost , which makes their produce perhaps worth the little extra cost. It could be worth your while to deliberately seek out more nutrient-dense vegetables and perhaps grow a little of your own food. After all, healthy soil leads to healthy plants, producing healthier people.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'More Minerals Please' 
 

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Birds, rainwater and your toothbrush

Saturday, September 09, 2017
If there is such a thing as rainwater tank envy, I bet many of us experienced it recently when our shire’s water supply became polluted with salt. Overnight, our tap water became a far less pleasant drinking experience and having your own water supply became priceless.

If you are blessed with your own rainwater tank, I bet you’ve got at least one filter and a first flush diverter between the tank and your home, because you know what happens on your roof: Incontinent birds and bats land there. Leaf litter and perhaps even the occasional nest can gather in the guttering. It’s surprising how much muck builds up, as any householder tasked with cleaning out the gutters finds out.

All this gunk washes off with the spring rains, and without a barrier, straight into your water supply, ready to brew into a less than healthy concoction as the temperature rises leading towards summer. You want to prevent all that bacteria-and-parasite laden water polluting your water supply.

If you’ve ever acquired a gastrointestinal parasite or small intestine bacterial overgrowth, you know just how challenging they are to evict and the intensity of symptoms they can produce. So most people have a filter between the tank and their kitchen tap to keep what’s lurking in their rainwater tank out of their drinking water.  But there’s another source of infection many householders overlook.

If you develop some uncomfortable and inconvenient bowel symptoms your practitioner will ask: Do you filter your rainwater supply? The next question will be “and what about your bathroom tap?” After all, every time you pick up your toothbrush then rinse your mouth out after brushing you could be using straight tank water – with all the muck from the guttering included.

We all get more active in the warmer spring weather, and any parasites and bacteria already present in your tank get more energetic too. Healthy intestines are capable of brushing off the occasional invading bug or parasite, but vast quantities from a polluted tank can overwhelm your body’s defences. So perhaps, if you don’t already filter your bathroom tap water, it could be time to. Or consider a ‘whole of house’ filter where your water pipe enters the building.

You don’t need anything more sophisticated than a ceramic filter, and they’re remarkably cost effective, particularly when you consider how much it’s going to set you back if a parasite takes up residence in your intestines.
 
If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Nine Bowel Signs You Shouldn't Ignore'


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Speaking your mind in a consultation

Saturday, August 26, 2017
It was probably confusing as a child, but now you’re an adult it makes sense. Maybe you got a swift kick under the table. Or a subtle arm-pinch, perhaps just a pointed glare.  You were having dinner at someone else’s home and it seemed your parents didn’t appreciate you voicing your unique, indefensible opinions about politics, religion or immigration. You were taught that to keep social events congenial, it’s considered polite to refrain from controversial topics. Following this custom also meant is was more likely you would be invited back another time.

Avoiding uncomfortable topics works well in social situations; but it’s all too easy to carry this custom into a practitioner’s consultation room. When you do, it can result in you leaving with the frustrating sense that your real concerns haven’t been addressed. Feeling like you wanted to speak up but somehow couldn’t.

As practitioners we call this effect the ‘imbalance of power’. The client (or patient) visits us in our ‘home’, our office. As a result, the visitor can feel constrained from speaking frankly, from disagreeing. For you, that can mean that the ‘elephant in the room’, what you’re really worried about or don’t agree on, isn’t discussed.  After a few of these kinds of consultation with different practitioners you can come to feel that no-one will help you.

I hope this hasn’t happened to you, but it seems that some folk (like women, those with disabilities, and members of minority groups) are more vulnerable to this imbalance of power, and are less likely to get the health services they need. So, if you sense you’re not getting what you came for, here are a couple of tips to help next time you sit down with a practitioner.

One technique is to write down before you go what you want from the consultation. Keep it with you. This is a fast way to communicate what you need when it can seem time to talk is too brief. It will help you stay on topic too. 

Another technique is to take a wingman with you – an assertive person you trust who also knows what you want to achieve from the visit, and is happy to speak up for you if it seems you’re not being heard.

Whichever technique you use, just remember that when it comes to your health care, this is the time to forget the keep-everyone-comfortable custom and speak your mind instead.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'Nine clues you have found the right practitioner' 

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Is it worth reading?

Saturday, August 19, 2017
You’ve probably had this kind of lightbulb moment. The television presenter breathlessly reports research that seems just the answer to your health problem. Maybe it’s about the importance of a vitamin, a magic formula for weight loss, or reassuring news that red wine and chocolate really are good for you. But you know that some reported ‘research’ might not be genuine or credible when examined closely. How can you uncover what’s real and what’s not in science?

We used to have to physically thumb through card catalogues and roam through dusty library shelves to locate a single study. But since the internet was born, the computer does this work for us. There’s now an overwhelming amount of information available with just a few clicks: good, mediocre and useless varieties. And the speed of our 24/7 news cycle can mean that research might not be checked diligently before the broadcasting begins.

We now have this problem because the internet doesn’t differentiate between what’s real and what’s make-believe. To help out, there’s a process in academic publishing called ‘peer review’, where a study is subjected to the scrutiny of several experts before the journal will agree to publish it. Although the process isn’t perfect, it does winnow out a lot of the chaff of research. Good quality scientific information is peer-reviewed, and worth reading; the rest might not be. Here’s how you find out if what you’re hearing is worthwhile.

First, seek out the journal. If where it was published isn’t mentioned, do an ‘advanced’ search through Google Scholar using clues from the news report. Once you know the journal name, head to their web site. There, perhaps in ‘instructions for submitting articles’, or the ‘about’ section will be the term ‘peer reviewed’ or ‘refereed’ or similar. If their website doesn’t mention this vetting process, or if it charges writers to publish, then you can suspect nobody’s checked the article before printing.

Still not sure? You could look for studies on the academic databases. Most libraries (including ours here in the Tweed) have access to research & study databases whose octopus-like tentacles reach into vast collections of academic journal articles. You can just tick a box in your search requesting ‘peer reviewed articles only’ and voila, it will locate the kind of research worth reading.

Now, when you hear about some fabulous new research you know how to reach behind the veil of publicity and see if it’s real.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'How to become an informed health consumer' 




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What about in a few decades?

Saturday, August 12, 2017
Swiping through Facebook the other day, I enjoyed the video clip about a nun regularly competing in triathlons. That’s a little outside what we would expect our religious to be doing, but that wasn’t the most unusual aspect: she was 86, and had taken up running in her early 50s as a spiritual exercise. It stuck. Sister Madonna Buder did miss competing in one triathlon in 2014 due to a broken hip, but according to the internet, is back on the track.

Then I came across another video clip, this time of a grandfather, Jean Titus, who had decided in his mid-40s that, really, he probably wasn’t even half way through his life, so it was time to get the mindset that would help him stay fit – and healthy – so much so that age would become just a number. He didn’t want to die at 25 to be buried at 70, realising that health & wellness were something money couldn’t buy. Judging by the film footage, he’s doing OK.
Now perhaps I was spending too much time on the internet. But these kinds of video clips and social media shares serve a purpose: they can shake us out of our habitual belief that our health and fitness will only be as good as the people around us. Which, if you’re living amongst people who have given up, might not be so good.

Maintaining your health certainly does become more challenging as the decades pass, partly thanks to the decline in reproductive hormone production from the middle years onwards. But I suspect that another powerful de-motivator is when you see the people around you getting tubbier, purchasing mobility aids, and forgetting where they were headed to after they’ve walked out the front door. 

As social beings, we’re hard-wired to perceive the way most of the people around us look as being normal. For example, it might seem normal now to be overweight since more than half of our population now wear plus-sized clothes. But if you were regularly mixing with people like Sister Buder and Mr Titus, your outlook on your own health and vitality might be a little different, perhaps?

So, if a little voice in your head is whispering that you might enjoy life more and feel better if you were healthier, maybe watching some of the inspiring folk on the internet, and getting amongst people intent on staying fit and healthy could help you shift aspirations into actions.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'The Controversies of Health' 

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Get those methylation moves happening with greens

Saturday, June 17, 2017
You might have heard of methylation, a fancy term for a particular biochemical reaction within your body that affects mood, skin, blood glucose regulation, wound healing and many other processes. If you know about methylation you might also have heard of the MTHFR gene mutation that makes methylation difficult for many of us and promotes development of conditions like depression, anxiety, addictions, acne, skin rashes, even muscle pain and fatigue.

You can obtain relatively inexpensive genetic tests now to determine whether your genes for methylation are defective (we can easily arrange this through the clinic); but even without the testing there’s something in your diet that can help your methylation processes and boost your health. Something ordinary. Something most of us don’t eat enough of: greens.

These vegetables, particularly raw greens, contain an important nutrient for methylation: folic acid, also known as folate or folinic acid. The name for this nutrient comes from where it’s most abundant, in green leafy vegetables. It’s in quite a few other foods as well, but green vegetables are a particularly rich source. As folate is a water soluble vitamin your body can’t store it, you have to top up on it each day. 

Vitamin C, found in all fresh raw fruits and vegetables, also helps the methylation process along by ‘recycling’ the folate so it can be used again and again to make the biochemical process happen at the right rate to keep you healthy and happy.

The big challenge is how to include more of these greens in your diet. The easiest way is to enjoy a salad every day. Not just salad in a sandwich, but a real salad; about two cups of salad vegetables with plenty of leafy greens like lettuce, dandelion leaves, rocket and herbs. Plus a yummy dressing, of course. Then for your evening meal aim to cover half your plate with steamed greens. 

You can even add greens to your breakfast: For example, lay a couple of rocket leaves on top of the bread before topping with eggs or savoury mince. 

Green smoothies are okay too, but try not to overdo them, as some raw greens regularly included in this drink, like kale, actually need to be cooked first to disable the phytic acid that can block the uptake of minerals.

One last tip to help you eat more leafy greens: Wrap them in a damp tea towel and enclose in a plastic bag to keep them fresh in your fridge.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Greens, the Ultimate Super Food' 

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Manipulating the neurotransmitters that make you feel good

Saturday, May 27, 2017
Brain produces dopamine and other neurotransmittersDon’t know about you, but I rather enjoy the experience of feeling happy. Whether that emerges just from enjoying a day of glorious weather, or a job well done. When something good happens that makes you feel good your brain shoots out a flash of dopamine, a neurotransmitter designed to create feelings of satisfaction and reward. 

If you didn’t already know that your brain can create emotional feelings this may come as a surprise. But your brain really is running the show when it comes to your behaviour, craftily squirting out a bit of serotonin for happiness, or dopamine for satisfaction, and many other neurotransmitters designed to get you experiencing particular feelings so you’ll behave in certain ways. And you thought you were in control. Not as much: if your brain decides that what you just did was something worth doing again, it will produce happiness neurotransmitters. It has decided that what you just did is worth repeating: job well done, do it again.

There are two problems with this: sometimes those neurotransmitters are produced in response to doing something that really isn’t good for us: like smoking, alcohol, caffeine and recreational drugs. Over-use of computer games and social media (that smart phone you’re carrying can induce a shot of dopamine, making it all too easy for us to get lured back to swiping and liking.) It’s good old self-discipline that helps you control those urges towards self-destructive behaviours that feel good in the moment but less so in the long term.

Brains can get inflamed, too, which inhibits their ability to produce neurotransmitters, including happiness inducing serotonin and dopamine.  If your body is inflamed then it’s possible your brain can become inflamed too, generating mood disorders like depression and anxiety. 

Although some of that dopamine can be re-absorbed and used again, your brain needs a steady supply of nutrients like protein, minerals and glucose to keep producing more. There’s another problem with dopamine: it can be exhausted. This is most evident with recreational drugs, where larger amounts are needed as time passes to extract the same feelings the drug offered.

On the positive side, ordinary helpful day-to-day activities can spark a dopamine reaction too. Exercise, particularly, is well known to produce the class of neurotransmitters known as ‘endorphins’ because they make you feel good. One of the best ways to boost your mood (in a healthy way) is to get sweaty exercising.  

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Natural Mood Boosters'



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Is fragrance making you sick?

Saturday, May 20, 2017
Ever found yourself pausing at the supermarket cleaning products aisle, uncertain whether to push your trolley through the cloud of smells? Would you get one of those mysterious headaches? Sneeze? Have trouble breathing until you got back into the open air? For some people this supermarket aisle has become the one to avoid. If you’ve experienced this you’re not alone; more and more people are finding our lives are over-fragranced.

There’s a reason why you’re not feeling overwhelmed by different smells already: soon after experiencing the new scent your nose stops registering it. For example, as you’re putting on your t-shirt you’ll briefly get a whiff of the laundry powder, but then it will go. So although it seems like the perfume you applied earlier has all gone, in fact other people can still smell it. 

Think your life isn’t over-perfumed? Tally up the number of fragranced products you’ve encountered already today. You might have washed your hair with a nice-smelling shampoo, used a perfumed soap. An aerosol deodorant spray helped avert worries that your perspiration would offend others, and you used after-shave too, the one your partner appreciates. The clothes you’re wearing were washed in perfumed laundry powder. In the kitchen, your bin liner was fragranced, the dishwasher detergent had its own distinctive smell, and just in case your house didn’t smell pristine, an automatic dispenser sprayed air ‘freshener’ regularly. That’s a lot of artificial chemicals your body has encountered even before breakfast.

Questions are being asked now about whether our exposure to fragrance is affecting our health. After all, we can absorb chemicals across our lungs, increasing the burden of toxins our livers and kidneys have to process. Kate Grenville, the author of ‘The Case Against Fragrance’ has asked some hard questions about perfume while reviewing research already done on the effect of synthetic fragrances. She didn’t find many answers, but her research generates even more worrying questions about what we are unconsciously splash around in our quest to smell good.  It’s a book worth reading if you suspect breathing in artificial fragrances could be affecting your breathing, generating mysterious headaches, creating nausea, even upsetting your hormones and nervous system.

There’s lots you can do to help yourself, beyond opening windows. Select unfragranced products more often. And grow some greenery indoors: House plants have been found to be particularly adept at absorbing the chemicals that make up artificial fragrances. 
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How to support the people you care about

Tuesday, May 09, 2017
Image credit paahulb via MorgueFileFor readers who don't live locally, we had a major flood wash through our community a few weeks ago. This article was published in our local newspaper. the Tweed Daily News.

It was truly amazing, how after the floods everyone just stepped up to help each other wash out mud, wash clothes, deliver food. So many ways we expressed that we all really care about each other.  Along with the practical assistance, many people wonder how they can best support the emotional and mental health of their family, friends, neighbours and community when talking about the disaster.

A major event like the floods affects people in different ways, at different times. Some people can appear to be handling it all okay and then a few weeks or months down the track realise they’re really not coping at all. Others need extra support from day one. There’s no ‘normal’ time frame for recovery;  but being there for people is always helpful.

The way to best support someone is to simply listen. It’s been proven by science that genuine listening is actually immensely therapeutic. But there’s a way to listen that makes it helpful. First, allow time and space for listening. Simply sit and be with the other person in a place they’re comfortable. This could mean over a cuppa, or even while sitting together fishing. Some adolescents seem to open up more on long drives (perhaps because they don’t have to make eye contact). Young children may talk while you’re playing in the sandpit with them. 

Here’s the tough part that can undo your good intentions: While listening remind yourself, as often as you need to, that you don’t have to take on their problems. That means you don’t dispense advice. Nor try to fix the problem for them; that’s not your job here.  All you have to do is be present, with your ears, and let them know you’ve heard what they say.  You can expect to feel frustrated inside, as you can probably think of many things that they could or should do. But try to restrain yourself.

It may help to let them know you’ve heard with a phrase like “so what you’re saying is….” They might agree, or disagree, or just repeat the story. That’s OK; people in shock will often repeat the same story over and over as they try to make sense of it all.

One more thing: Trauma is sticky, so through listening to many upsetting tales you may feel you need some support yourself.  So don’t be afraid to reach out towards help for yourself.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Help When Life Is Turned Upside Down'


Image credit: Paahulb via MorgueFile

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The illusion of fancy food on social media

Saturday, May 06, 2017
Breakfast with mushroom(Yes, I know, I have my own Instagram account, here, where I share what I'm cooking and eating. But, just like the article you're about to read points out, you don't get to see the 'train wrecks'. The photo here is one of my better looking breakfasts; and yes, it had gone cold by the time I'd posted it on Instagram. So enjoy the pictures but please don't think my food is perfect - it's often not.) 

When you want to improve your diet I can understand how the fabulous food portrayed on social media could feel overwhelming and seem expensive; because many of the spectacular looking meals on social media sites like Instagram include some exotic, hard-to-obtain and pricey ingredients in a dish that’s taken hours to prepare. Then you can fear you’re missing out as you fork through your own, less photogenic dinner.

Social media can ignite some genuine food anxiety, perpetuating the illusion that everyone else is tucking into stunningly attractive healthy meals all the time. But many of those photos you’re admiring actually take ages to arrange and photograph, and could certainly have gone cold by the time the photographer picks up their cutlery. The reality of life is that sometimes your meals can look like a train wreck when they land on your plate. Another, although hidden reality, is that you only get to see the finished product when the photographer thinks it’s worth sharing. Which isn’t all the time.

Another fallacy perpetuated by social media and advertising: that in order to eat healthy you have to include exotic, expensive and fashionable ingredients. If you can afford to live that way, fantastic; but most of us have a budget. Instead, reach for some of the great recipe books devoted to showing you how the plain, inexpensive foods our grandparents and great-grandparents accessed can be made into delicious and yet healthy meals and snacks. Or google ‘budget healthy food’.

The short cut to saving money with food is to keep in mind that the more hands your food has passed through before it gets to your table, the more you will pay for it. For example, if you make your own yoghurt in bulk at home, then add fruit you stewed yourself, the price you pay for that snack will be less than buying a snack-sized tub at the supermarket. Same for home-made salads, cakes, even bread. The more of the work you do yourself, the less you pay. 

A once-a-week food preparation campaign will help ensure you’ve always got healthy food on hand, and having a meal plan for the week will save you from having to make decisions when you’re tired.
So enjoy those food photos on social media – they can inspire you to focus more on eating healthy food; but don’t let them deter you from your quest to eat healthy.

If you enjoyed this article you might find my meal plan helpful. It's here.


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