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Olwen Anderson's Blog

B Group Vitamins (or, how vitamin supplements gained an unfair reputation for creating expensive urine)

Saturday, March 31, 2012

“Take as much as you need, and let the rest go”.  This sums up your body’s approach to absorption of B-Group vitamins, and could be how vitamin supplementation gained an unfair reputation for creating expensive urine. These important nutrients aren’t stored by your body, so you need to take in more each day. There are quite a few of the B’s, with a myriad of roles, but they’re especially important for maintaining your nervous system, and in helping digestion and energy production take place in cells.

Your body is actually quite clever in the way it approaches B vitamin absorption. It checks first to see how much you already have in circulation. If your body stores for the day are low, extra B-absorbing molecules are produced by your intestines to actively seek out and enthusiastically absorb as much as needed to bring body stores back to normal. If your body already has enough of that B vitamin, it will allow a little of it in, but won’t work hard at making it happen. Unabsorbed B vitamins simply leave your body with other waste products. Perhaps this is how vitamin supplementation gained an unfair reputation for creating ‘expensive urine’.

The B vitamins have been grouped because they’re so inter-dependant in biochemical reactions. Many body processes, particularly those that create energy, rely on the right raw materials (like vitamins) being present at the right time, in the right quantity, to make things happen. A shortage or absence of raw materials can mean the process happens only slowly, or not at all. This is why your body puts so much effort into absorbing the right amount of B vitamins. It’s also why some people find they have more energy when they eat better or take a B vitamin supplement.

People most at risk of B vitamin deficiency are those on medication, because some medications, especially those that treat stomach disorders, may interfere with your body’s ability to absorb certain vitamins. If you eat too much processed food (unlikely if you’re reading this column) then you’re in danger of becoming deficient too. People with irritated or inflamed intestines are also at risk, because unhealthy intestines don’t absorb nutrients as efficiently as they should.

Unprocessed food is a great source of B Vitamins – especially meat, seafood, vegetables, eggs, nuts, seeds and legumes. Processed food like bread is often fortified with B Vitamins because they were destroyed in processing. Yet another reason to enjoy unprocessed food; you’ll receive a wider range of B vitamins in their natural form.

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Three basic ways to improve your health that have a big effect

Monday, March 26, 2012

Feeling a little overwhelmed by all the things you ‘should’ be doing for good health? All the foods you ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t be eating? It seems that every day a new article will appear about a new aspect of health. You may feel like you could spend all day trying to do the right thing but never get there.

To help you regain some perspective, I’d like to share with you the three ‘big issues’ that I see pulling people back from having the best possible health they could. They may seem simple, but they have big effects.

The first of the trio is fibre. Most people believe they get ‘enough’. But when the computer adds up their average fibre intake on most days, it’s short. Most people eating a standard western diet (cereal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, meat and veg for dinner) take in only about 15g of fibre, often less. We all need at least 25g, ideally up to 35g of fibre every day. That means that most people are eating.

You may automatically reach for high fibre grains to fill the gap; but actually, most people eat enough grains; it’s a shortage of vegetables that leaves them short of fibre. Fibre rich food is usually nutrient-rich too, and helps keep your digestion healthy. It helps remove waste toxins from your body, and even affects your hormone levels.

The second big ‘missing link’ in the lives of most unwell people is lack of exercise. Before you recite the mantra “I’m too busy to exercise”, consider this: All of us can find time to do the things that are important to us. You know what you need to do. More exercise means more mobility, a better looking body, and less stress.

The third, and possibly most important aspect of good health is finding time for yourself. That’s because finding time for yourself reduces stress; and being stressed makes you sick. Stress appears in everyone’s life in one way or another: work pressures, family tensions, financial commitments. On top of this, there is a subtle expectation (created by modern technology) that you will be available 24/7 for others. As a result, some of us don’t switch off and health suffers from the unrelenting stress.

By taking ‘time out’ in some way, every day, you can reduce the flood of stress hormones circulating through your body. These stress hormones effectively dampen your immunity, switch off your digestion and get in the way of reproductive hormones working properly. For some people this is as simple as going for a morning surf or walk through nature (without your mobile phone); or a calming bath with candles. For others its meditation, or yoga. Whatever you choose, you can tell that it’s a healthy stress reducer if you feel less stressed after the activity.

How could you apply these today? This week? They'll make a major impact on your sense of wellbeing.

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Taming the horror hormones of PMT

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Women lead demanding lives. They’re the major caregivers in our culture, and usually maintain a household, bring up children, and hold down a job. Sometimes they’re part time students as well. Incredibly, for most of the month these women juggle the myriad demands of their life with admirable ease; but for one or two weeks of the month, life is anything but enjoyable. For themselves, as well as everyone around them. They can become tetchy, argumentative, teary and sometimes even aggressive. The horror hormones of pre-menstrual tension seem to take over.

What’s causing this is an imbalance between oestrogen and progesterone levels. After ovulation, there should be enough progesterone in circulation to keep oestrogen in check. But our diet and lifestyle promote oestrogen dominance. In the first couple of years of puberty, as well as the perimenopause, women are prone to even more intense PMT in the months when they don’t ovulate. In moderate quantities, estrogen is a hormone of growth and femininity, maintaining good skin tone and a feminine shape. In excess, estrogen becomes the hormone of irrationality.

There are several things you can do to ‘hose down’ that excess estrogen and create an easier pre-menstrual time of the month.

Using your diet, you can ‘mop up’ the excess circulating estrogen using fibre and phytoestrogen-rich foods. Fibre will increase your blood levels of sex hormone binding globulin, a protein that literally attracts excess hormone molecules and removes them from your body. Legumes (lentils, chick peas etc) are a fabulous source of fibre: Eat about half a cup of cooked legumes every day. Vegetables and flaxseed provide fibre too, but also act as phytoestrogens. These natural compounds mimic cell estrogen receptors, latching onto excess estrogen molecules so they can’t attach to cells. Some women find that removing dairy from their diet completely during PMT makes a positive difference too.

Your lifestyle may be contributing to your PMT. Check that you’re exercising (enough) every day; this will help balance your hormones and burn off stress. Boxing may be a particularly attractive sport at this time!

Make sure too that you actually take time out from your demands to look after yourself. Women are generally very good at looking after everyone else’s needs, but tend to overlook their own. Check that you’ve got some form of ‘time out’ every day.

Chocolate cravings may become strong during PMT. Resisting this just adds to your tension, and chocolate actually contains substances that will boost your brain’s happy neurotransmitters. But you only need about 50g to do the job, not the entire block! That means about two squares of chocolate, or a small chocolate frog.

Sometimes naturopaths use herbs to tone down the excess circulating estrogen.

Here’s your PMT treatment prescription: A fibre and vegetable-rich diet, plenty of exercise, time out for you, and just a little chocolate if you want it. 

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy this free e-book "When Good Hormones Go Bad"

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How to lower your cholesterol level naturally

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

If you’ve been diagnosed with ‘high cholesterol’, there are many ways you can help bring yourself back into a healthier range.

Some cholesterol in your system is essential. It transports hormones around your body, amongst other tasks. Too much circulating cholesterol, however, when your body is pro-inflammatory, and cholesterol can tend to get stuck on artery walls, reducing your blood flow and increasing the problem of cardiovascular events if one of the cholesterol ‘plaques’  shears off from the artery wall, becoming a potential blockage.

Knowing what those numbers on your blood test mean can empower you, as you see the numbers improve with each blood test. HDL is the ‘good’ cholesterol. You want more of this type of cholesterol, because it helps remove excess cholesterol from your blood stream. You want much less of LDL, the ‘bad’ cholesterol, because it will tend to get pasted to your artery walls. Fortunately, provide the right conditions and your body will start to re-balance your HDL and LDL cholesterol.

Diet changes are the first of three most effective methods for you to reduce your cholesterol. The theory used to be that eating cholesterol-rich foods (like eggs) would automatically increase your body’s cholesterol levels. Current theories are that pro-inflammatory foods are more likely to increase your cholesterol level, and create plaques in your arteries. Foods high in saturated fat (butter, full fat cheese, agriculturally raised meat, coconut) and hydrogenated (processed) fats are pro-inflammatory.

Consuming good fats instead will help. Seafood (especially oily fish), avocado, linseed and a moderate amount of tree nuts (not peanuts) are higher in omega-3 oils, which help counteract the pro-inflammatory effect of saturated fats.

Fibre is the second most important component of a cholesterol-lowering plan. Few people reach the recommended 25-35g of fibre per day; or at least, that’s what I see in clinical practice. Surprised? Actually, most people fall short simply because they don’t eat enough vegetables, and assume they’re getting plenty of fibre from their grains.

Stress management is next on the list. As soon as you become stressed, your body automatically floods your bloodstream with fatty acids and extra glucose, to help you escape from the ‘threat’.

Since most of us experience stress, one of the most effective ways to counteract it is with physical exercise, which ‘burns off’ those extra fatty acids and glucose. Add fitness training to your cholesterol lowering plan.

There are other steps you can take to lower cholesterol – but these are the big three to focus on: Food, fitness, and stress management.

By the way, I wrote a small, easy to read book on lowering cholesterol naturally. It includes details of how to read and understand your blood test reports, understand why you might have developed high cholesterol, and provides a meal plan to get you started. You can buy it at my online shop, here . Its just $A9.99 for the electronic version.

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Sprouts: Easy, cheap, nutritious

Monday, March 05, 2012

Grains and seeds are a staple part of our diet, providing vitamins, minerals, fibre and carbohydrates. But often they’re heavily processed, which can suck out the nutrients. But you can easily and cheaply grow grains and seeds as sprouts, increasing the power of the nutrients within them, and opening up new culinary landscapes.

You may have visited the health food store, gazed in wonder at the wide range of seeds, grains and legumes available, but left without buying because you didn’t know how to cook any of them. Fortunately you don’t have to learn new cooking methods to extract the goodness of these foods – you can sprout them instead.

You can easily create your own little sprouting farm on your kitchen bench, with your first ‘crop’ available within several days.  Use them straight away, or store them in the fridge for a couple of days. Once sprouted, they’re classified as ‘raw’ food (read “healthier”). Raw food contains more water soluble vitamins (especially vitamin C)  which are easily destroyed by cooking. Remember when ‘wheatgrass shots’ were all the rage? That was just wheat grains sprouted, which radically changed their nutrient profile in a very positive way.  Most of us would benefit from more raw foods in our diet.

From a naturopathic perspective, raw foods have more ‘life force’, a term used to describe foods that are still alive, and as close to their natural state as possible. For example, mung beans sprouted have more life force than mung beans cooked; and even these have more life force than mung beans that have been processed into noodles.

To start sprouting, it’s easy. You can buy a custom-made sprouter, or make your own using a glass jar, a clean piece of muslin and a rubber band. A sprout pre-mix is a good place to start. Soak overnight in clean water, then rinse twice a day. Ensure the sprouts can drain, as they will rot if left sitting in water. In a warm, sunny spot you may find the sprouts start to grow leaves. If they do, they’re definitely ready to harvest. You can store your crop in the fridge for a few days.

As you become more experienced with sprouting, you can try out specific varieties. The softer, smaller seeds like alfalfa are ideal for sandwiches and leafy delicate salads. Larger, more robust seeds and legumes like kidney beans, mung beans and the like will grow a robust, larger sprout; a great addition to stir fries.

Now you have access to fresh raw food at a fraction of the cost to buy sprouts pre-grown.

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Vitamin D - do you need more?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Vitamin D has appeared more in the news recently, as researchers discover more about the value of this vitamin in treating disease and maintaining wellness. When you read about what a particular vitamin, like D, can do for you, it’s tempting to start supplementing right now.  But not so fast: Lets first look at the details of what influences Vitamin D uptake.

The most important role of vitamin D is in promoting the absorption of calcium, and helping bones mineralise at the right rate; recently science has discovered that vitamin D may have a role in regulating immunity and healthy cell reproduction too.

Why shouldn’t you immediately begin supplementing, if you suspect you could be deficient?  Because your body contains a multitude of mechanisms for absorbing just the right amount of specific nutrients; and also, if your absorption mechanisms (intestines, liver, kidneys) aren’t in good shape, you’re not going to absorb much of that supplement anyway. Remember too that vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin; and all fat soluble vitamins can accumulate in your body when you constantly take in more than you need. (Vitamins A, D E and K are fat soluble vitamins). Excess water-soluble vitamins (the B group and vitamin C) are excreted through urine.

Your skin is the main means for your body to absorb vitamin D. Just five to 10 minutes of sun exposure per day, on your arms and legs, will provide 3000IU of vitamin D. After absorption through your skin, a large number of enzymes in your kidneys and liver convert D to its active form. Some vitamin D is absorbed through your diet too, especially oily fish. (100g of canned salmon will provide 300-600IU of vitamin D). The recommended daily intake of vitamin D is just 400IU. Even with just some simple math, you can see how easy it should be to get enough vitamin D. So why are so many people now deficient in this important vitamin? Here are some of the groups considered most as risk:

-          People who are institutionalised, like the frail elderly, who don’t often get into the sun

-          People whose intestinal fat absorption is defective (like those with irritable bowel, crohns or colitis)

-          Some medications can interfere with absorption of fat soluble vitamins

-          Those with chronic kidney disease (because your kidneys are an important part of converting vitamin D to its active form)

-          Obese members of our population are considered more at risk for vitamin D deficiency. The theory is that excessive fat just under the skin ‘soaks up’ too much of the vitamin D before it reaches the bloodstream.

A blood test to ascertain whether you really need a vitamin D supplement can be arranged through the clinic, if you are a current client. In the meantime, you can help yourself with brief daily exposure to the sun, including oily fish in your diet, and ensuring that your digestive health is good.

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Keeping your brain sharp as you age

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Looking towards the future, most people want to live as independently as possible, for as long as possible. What pushes many into institutionalised care is difficulty with mobility, but also cognitive decline into memory loss or dementia.  Here are some nutrition tips to help you maintain a healthier brain so you can enjoy your senior years more.

Brain cells communicate two ways: Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers , passing instructions from one cell to another; they’re deeply involved in generating thoughts and moods. The other way your brain cells communicate is through electrical impulses.

In a nutshell (no pun intended), your brain is mostly made up of fat, feeding on glucose, protein, vitamins and minerals.  The membrane for every cell is made of fat molecules, a little like oil floating on water. The more flexible your cell membranes, the easier it is for oxygen and nutrients to move in, and for neurotransmitters to be secreted.

Firstly, the more even your dietary omega-3 versus omega-6 fat intake, the more flexible your brain cell membranes are. Our genes want us to consume a diet that contains roughly the same amount of omega-3 as omega-6 oils; a modern western diet supplies only about one part omega-3 to ten parts omega-6 oils. This can create stiff cell membranes that don’t function as well as they could.

Excellent sources of omega-3 oils are seafood (especially oily fish), seeds and some nuts.  The omega-6 component of our diet comes from farmed meat, dairy and hydrogenated oils (artificially modified oils frequently found in processed foods – check the label)

Secondly, your brain cells need a steady supply of glucose as fuel. The key word here is ‘steady’. Wildly fluctuating blood glucose levels can affect your thought processes and your mood. Too much glucose all at once and your brain can get over-active; too little glucose and a ‘brain fog’ can seem to fill your head, making it difficult to think things through.

You can help fuel your brain by keeping sugary foods out of your diet, eating every few hours, and ensuring you include protein and fibre-rich foods at each meal (they take longer to digest, giving you a steadier blood sugar level).

The third important aspect to feeding your brain is ensuring a good supply of protein, vitamins and minerals.  There’s a catch though. As you age, your digestion becomes less effective. You don’t secrete as much digestive enzymes as you need, so nutrients can pass through you mostly unabsorbed. Worse, people tend to eat less protein as they age; chewing can be difficult, or just putting a proper meal together can be challenging.  Some medications can interfere with your ability to digest food, and stress will effectively slow your digestion too. The result can be a downward spiral towards malnutrition.

Water is important too; dehydrated brains don’t function well.

Drink up, eat well, and enjoy your senior years.

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Feeling burnt out?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Was one of your New Year resolutions to develop a better work-life balance? Let’s look at what can happen to your body if you don’t take time out, and then discover ways you could make time for rejuvenation, even when life seems frantically busy.

Let’s look at a fairly typical busy day for many people. Jolted awake by the alarm, you’re catapulted into your morning routine. With the morning TV on, or talkback radio, you listen to the news while bolting down a quick breakfast. At work there is a deluge of tasks to complete, and emails keep pouring in; you’re so busy you decide to work through lunch – again – and just grab a coffee and something quick to keep you going. By the end of the working day you’re looking forward to relaxing at home; but you’re too tired to even think about preparing a home cooked meal, so you pick up takeaway. At least the kids like it. At home, you reach gratefully for the bottle of wine, and try to relax by zoning out in front of the TV. Eventually you fall into bed, and the cycle starts again the next morning.

By the end of the week you’re feeling completely wiped out, with little energy to enjoy your partner’s company or spend quality time with your children. You haven’t exercised, and your waistline is showing the evidence.

Our bodies are designed to cope well with short term bursts of stress, followed by recovery. Chronic stress leads to chronic health problems; like high blood pressure, bowel dysfunction, adrenal fatigue. We’re simply not designed to cope well without recovery. If you’ve ever watched the progress of a court case that drags on for months, you’ll notice how the participants seem to age rapidly in a short time. Sometimes their health deteriorates so much that the court case is suspended. That’s the physical effect of chronic stress.

You know you’ll feel better if you can only find time to exercise, to relax, to renew your spirituality; but how, when there doesn’t seem to be time? Here are some tips to help you make it happen:

-          Schedule your time for exercise as if it was the most important meeting of the day (which it is, because if you don’t have your health you can’t do much). As soon as you start to exercise, your circulating stress hormones diminish.

-          Switch off your technology at meal times, so you get to just enjoy your meal.

-          Carve out time to renew your spiritual connections; through meditation, spiritual reading, or attending your church. It will re-connect you with the big picture of why you’re here.

-          Becoming involved in an engaging creative activity, like painting, sewing or craft work will help you relax too.

You know that holidays are rejuvenating. Taking time out every day, just for you, is rejuvenating too. You're less likely to feel 'wiped out' by the end of the week.

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