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Olwen Anderson's Blog

Antioxidants: Why You Need Them And Where To Get Them

Saturday, November 08, 2008
As there are so many foods now advertised as ‘rich in antioxidants’, I thought I’d let you know just what antioxidants are, why you need them, and the best foods to eat to obtain a good supply.

We can’t help producing free radicals – they occur as part of breathing and moving and metabolising food. Fighting off infection creates free radicals too. Our bodies have an in-built capability to deal with a certain amount of these destructive molecules. But then we pick up extra free radicals from modern life: pollution, as well as radiation from the sun, and cigarette smoke. The best way to deal with the damaging effects of modern life is to strengthen your body’s ability to fight free radicals effectively: increase your intake of antioxidants.

In the process of creating energy, molecules within your cells exchange electrons. As part of this, some molecules are left unbalanced, missing an electron. They are desperate to become balanced again, and will quickly steal an electron from another molecule. This can set off a cascade of destructive biochemical reactions that damage cell membranes and your DNA; making you more susceptible to the chronic diseases of aging like cancer, and cardiovascular disease. 

The more free radicals you’re exposed to, and the lower your antioxidant status, the faster you’re likely to age. That’s why people who smoke cigarettes tend to look older than the rest of us.

Many of our foods already contain these antioxidants, particularly foods that contain vitamin C, vitamin E, or any of the many minerals that go into making new antioxidants within the body.

In our food, you can find antioxidants in all raw fruits and vegetables.

You can arrange for a test of your own free radical status through your naturopath. They will do a urine test which measures the amount of malondialdehyde, a by-product of free radical formation. 

If you are keen to slow the ageing process, or speed up your recovery from chronic illness, you can take antioxidant supplements. There are many different varieties, and each works in a different way to achieve the same outcome. One of the best is superoxide dismutase, which works to halt the free radical cascade as soon as it begins.

Even if you’re taking antioxidant supplements, you still need to make sure your diet contains plenty of fresh raw fruits and vegetables. You could enjoy some fresh fruit with your breakfast, a freshly prepared vegetable juice with your lunch, and some fresh berries or red grapes for dessert. All these foods will help boost your antioxidant status.

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Always Tired? Maybe Its Adrenal Fatigue

Friday, November 07, 2008
A familiar case seen by naturopaths is the person who has been under unrelenting pressure for a period of time; began using stimulants like caffeine and sugar to keep going, and didn’t take time out. Their ability to cope with life’s pressures has diminished, and their bodies are starting to show chronic ill health. Often, these are the people who find it almost impossible to get out of bed in the morning, experience energy slumps during the day, and can’t remember the last time they had a refreshing sleep. Their adrenal glands are out of fuel.

Your adrenal glands want to tell you: “Look after us, or we’ll get progressively exhausted and wear out! We are the key to your ability to recover from stress and enjoy life more!”

If you aren’t already familiar with the care and maintenance of your adrenal glands, I’d like to give you a few tips. In fact, you might recognise some of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue in yourself.

The adrenals are small glands located at the top of your kidneys. Their primary role is to help you respond to stress in a way that gets you out of trouble. They evolved in the time when we were living in caves, and needed to escape from predators. In those times, we had plenty of time to recover between emergency situations, giving our adrenal glands time to recover too.

When we feel threatened, these glands produce adrenaline and other hormones, which immediately gives our muscles a burst of extra energy, and shuts down other body functions (digestion, immunity, reproduction) until the threat has passed and we can relax.

In modern life, there are a multitude of stressors making our adrenal glands work hard, and often not enough time to recover before the next stress ‘attack’.  Some common modern stressors include being in a job or a relationship where you feel disempowered, or work rotating shifts, or just work constantly without respite. 

Eventually your adrenal glands can become exhausted, and many body functions get severely out of balance. 

You can help prevent this happening. Every individual has a different stress tolerance level, so its important to identify your own ‘stress limit’, and to make time for balancing activities. Although we can’t measure stress quantitatively, just the feeling that you’re stressed, and unable to escape from the stressor/s, means you’re over your limit.

Here’s how to look after your adrenal glands:
  1. Avoid using stimulants like caffeine, nicotine and sugar as a way to ‘keep you going’ through the day
  2. Eat a balanced diet, focusing on unprocessed foods.
  3. Take time out just for you – every day.
  4. Exercise every day
  5. Go to bed at the same time every night (and turn that screen off 30 minutes before lights out!)

If you suspect you may be suffering from adrenal fatigue, your natural health professional can arrange for your existing adrenal function to be tested, and advise you on the best way for you to recover.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy "why can't I sleep?"



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The super-fast evening seafood meal

Friday, November 07, 2008
  1. Take a fillet of fish – my favourite for this method is Snapper.
  2. Place on a sheet of alfoil
  3. Add a couple of slices of tomato and three chopped kalamata olives. Add a sprig of fresh thyme if you have it.
  4. Fold over the foil to seal
  5. Bake at 180°C for 15 minutes
  6. Serve with a colourful salad or steamed vegetables
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Four Ways To Boost Your Fertility Naturally

Thursday, November 06, 2008
fertility PCOS hormonesSo, you have decided to have a baby. How can you increase your chances of becoming and remaining pregnant? You need to look at your diet, assess what your hormones are doing already, monitor your stress levels, and consider any pollutants you may already be exposed to.

There are three major classes of infertility: Primary, where there has been no prior pregnancy; secondary, where pregnancy has occurred in the past but for some reason hasn’t happened now or doesn’t continue full term; and the third is an absence or shortage of eggs and/or sperm. Most types of infertility can be treated naturally.

Mother nature likes regularity and balance when making babies: Female hormones should ideally follow their 28 day rhythm, oestrogen and progesterone levels rising and falling at the right times, and ovulation occurring around the middle of the cycle. Irregular or absent periods, acne or facial hair may indicate that your ovaries are not following their natural rhythm. Herbs, nutrients, homoeopathics or acupuncture can be prescribed to gently coax hormones into a fertile rhythm.

Do you know when you are ovulating? Test kits are readily available in shops, or you can learn how to track your ovulation through temperature and vaginal mucus changes. Look for books on traditional natural fertility markers in your local library.

Your nutritional status plays a big part in promoting fertility. If you have become pregnant in the past but have not been able to carry the baby to term, this is an area you particularly need to look at. Scientific research has highlighted the negative effect a western diet has on fertility. You need a balanced diet, but how does your current diet measure up? You need to ensure also that the food you’re eating is top quality: Choose to eat food as close to its natural form as possible, and avoid pollutants by choosing to eat organic.

Zinc is an important fertility boosting mineral for both men and women. The reputation oysters have around making babies is well earned, so enjoy them! Your naturopath can easily assess your zinc status through a taste test. 

Insulin resistance can affect your hormone balance too, and poor blood sugar regulation may be hampering your best efforts to fall pregnant. Signs of insulin resistance include a tubby tummy, cravings for sweet starchy foods, and an energy slump mid afternoon. Exercise (enough) is the key to overcoming insulin resistance.

Chronic stress seriously disrupts hormones, so exercise regularly and make time to wind down every day.

Men need to pay attention to their stress levels and diet just as much, as they need the right conditions to produce lots of healthy sperm.

Fertility - or the absence of it - is a complex field. There's no reason why you have to do this alone, so engaging the right practitioner to help you is essential.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy "How a Muffin Top Affects Your Ovaries"


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Calcium: Should I Take A Supplement?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Should you take a calcium supplement or not? A research report published recently (2008) in the British Medical Journal suggested that if you are a woman well past menopause, and taking high quantities of calcium supplements, you may actually increase your risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke.

The researchers proposed that it was the sudden increase in blood calcium levels from high doses of calcium that promoted atherosclerosis and increased risk of ‘vascular events’ like heart attack or stroke. The participants in the study took a large dose of calcium (1g) in a highly absorbable form (calcium citrate is one of the easiest forms of calcium for your body to absorb).

The research has sparked some heated debate in the scientific community. This kind of debate is normal when contentious findings are published, but it may leave elderly women wondering whether they should continue to take their calcium supplement. And if they don’t, will their bones crumble?

Remember that bone structure is influenced by the amount of estrogen in your system, the amount of weight bearing exercise you undertake, your vitamin D status, your stress levels, and your calcium intake. 

Bone tissue is constantly being re-modelled in a healthy body; Special cells labour constantly to remove old bone tissue and replace it with new bone tissue. In osteoporosis the cells assigned to remove bone (osteoclasts) vastly outnumber the cells assigned to build bone (osteoblasts), resulting in a gradual decline in the total amount of bone tissue available to support your skeleton.

If you are presently taking a calcium supplement, and not sure if you should continue, here are some questions to ask yourself:

- Have you actually been diagnosed with osteoporosis? A bone density scan (x-ray) to view the structure of your bones, or a urine test to measure the level of bone collagen being excreted is an essential first step before considering whether you really need a calcium supplement. Osteoporosis is certainly a pervasive disease in elderly women, but its also important to know whether you are really at risk, or not.

- If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, you should undergo testing at regular intervals to make sure your chosen therapy is working.

- Are you taking a calcium supplement just because it seems like a good idea after menopause? If you ingest too much calcium you can upset your magnesium status. Magnesium is an important mineral for relaxing muscles and reducing blood pressure. Taking mineral supplements can sometimes harm your health if they throw your absorption of other minerals out of balance.

If you are a woman past menopause and concerned about the possibility of developing osteoporosis, it’s a good idea to discuss your calcium status and possible risks of osteoporosis with your health professional before you reach for that bottle of calcium tablets.

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Say Goodbye To The Cystitis Bugs

Tuesday, November 04, 2008
If you’ve ever been affected by a bladder infection, (also known as cystitis), you’ll probably remember vividly the pain and discomfort associated with it. Hopefully it cleared within a few days. For some women however, life is one cystitis attack after another, requiring constant treatment with prescription medication like antibiotics.

Our female anatomy makes us more likely to develop cystitis. The tube (urethra) leading from the bladder to outside the body is shorter than in males, and our urethral opening is perilously close to the anus. This can give bacteria an easy journey towards the bladder.

In chronic cystitis, bacteria have set up a comfortable home in the bladder, and find themselves in ideal conditions for breeding. If you suffer from chronic cystitis, or if you want to help yourself recover faster from a bladder infection, here are some tips:


Create The Right Conditions

Cystitis bacteria love acidic, sugary urine. By increasing the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet, and reducing sugar and grain-based foods like bread and biscuits, you’ll be making your urine less acidic and sugary, more alkaline.

Flush Them Out!

Although its probably painful to urinate, drinking at least three litres of pure water a day during an acute attack will help literally flush out the bacteria. By the way, drinking black tea can make the infection worse, as tea can sometimes irritate your bladder. And it makes your urine more acidic.

Bring On The Good Bugs

Curiously, making sure there are good bacteria in your intestine will help your body resist cystitis. Four dessertspoons of good quality fresh plain yoghourt every day will help keep your intestinal bugs happy. During an acute attack, probiotics tablets may help.

Love Those Cranberries

Cranberry juice is an old remedy for cystitis – but a good one. A small glass of pure cranberry juice every day is a good practice for chronic cystitis sufferers. A natural therapist can supply you with cranberry extract capsules if you don’t like cranberry juice.

Physical Barriers

Some women find that emptying their bladder after sex helps flush out bacteria that have made their way into the urethra. Also, when wiping after a bowel motion, always make sure you wipe from front to back, to prevent any bacteria being wiped towards your vagina and urethra.

..and Relax!

Feeling stressed will dampen down your immune system, making it more likely you will develop an acute attack of cystitis. 

Remember that if you’re suffering from an acute or chronic bladder infection you may need professional help to get rid of it completely. But these tips will help you manage your bladder health better.

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Managing Gout

Monday, November 03, 2008
Did you ever try the school science experiment of dangling a string in a saturated solution and returning a few days later to find that crystals had formed on the string? Hold that image in your mind as you read on, as it will help you understand how gout develops – 

Gout, or gouty arthritis, usually appears in men over 40 years old. Commonly, the first a man knows about it is when he’s woken during the night with excruciating pain in his big toe. Often he can’t bear to have anyone touch the toe, or tolerate even the weight of bedding. Eventually the pain goes away. As the disorder progresses over the years, these ‘attacks’ of gout can become more frequent, last longer, and joints can start to deteriorate. Some men develop ‘tophi’, little lumps on the edges of their ears – this is a form of gout too.

The whole gout problem is a disorder of  how the body handles uric acid. This acid is produced from the normal metabolic processing of purines, a naturally occurring substance in food, but people with gout have trouble getting rid of it.

Usually the kidneys filter out excess uric acid and eliminate it. A person with gout could be over-producing uric acid, or not eliminating enough of it, or a combination of both. But if too much uric acid accumulates in the bloodstream, it has to go somewhere - crystals will tend to form and clump together. Unfortunately, they usually form in cooler areas with low circulation, like the joints of the big toe or the edges of the ears. 

When urate forms crystals around a joint, it sets up an inflammatory reaction, resulting in extreme pain, and the production of more damaging molecules.  If the inflammation isn’t cleared away (that is, if urate crystal formation continues), the joint will start to deteriorate. Over time, the acute episodes of pain can become more frequent and last longer. 

Although this disorder is partly inherited, most people with gout tend to have a diet high in acid-forming foods and alcohol, and low in water consumption.  

Naturopaths sometimes classify foods into ‘acid-forming’ and alkaline-forming’ due to the effect they tend to have on the pH of the body. No prizes for guessing, the good, alkaline-forming diets are those high in unprocessed foods, low in fat and with a moderate level of protein. Acid-forming diets on the other hand, tend to be high in alcohol, coffee, black tea, red meat and processed foods.

Naturopathic treatment of gout includes change towards an alkaline-forming diet; excluding foods which tend to promote the formation of uric acid, and increasing water consumption to promote elimination through the kidneys. Why more water? Think back to that school experiment I mentioned earlier – a more dilute solution makes it harder for crystals to form. 

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Endless Varieties Of Salad In Seven Easy Steps

Sunday, November 02, 2008
Summer is suddenly here, and our taste buds naturally start seeking out cooler, fresher foods. Here’s a great opportunity for you to get more raw food in your diet, particularly in the form of salad. Its easy to prepare a different salad every day when you know the basics. 

Raw vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, full of water soluble vitamins which can be destroyed by cooking. Naturopaths know that fresh raw food has more ‘life force’, which means better nutrition and more energy for you.

Of course the same salad ingredients every day can get boring, so here’s the magic formula for making endless variations, depending on what’s in season, what’s in your fridge and what’s in your garden. You’ll be limited only by your imagination.

1. First the base – leafy greens. You can buy interesting mixes of salad greens at the supermarket or vegie market. Use the more strongly flavoured greens like rocket if you’re going to use strongly flavoured toppings, and softer greens if you don’t want to overwhelm the subtler toppings.

2. Next, choose a protein, such as tuna, salmon, chicken, beef, egg, legumes or tofu. For a ‘warm’ salad, just use the meat or egg when its still warm from cooking. 

3. Add something crunchy – like capsicum, zucchini, cucumber, green beans, bean sprouts, or cherry tomatoes. Along with the greens, the crunchy ingredients should create the bulk of your salad, so be generous.

4. Add something creamy – like avocado, or leftover roast pumpkin, or a soft cheese – or your dressing could be of the ‘creamy’ variety.

5. Something tangy – like olives or feta cheese.

6. Something special – like a sprinkle of nuts, or freshly snipped herbs from the garden

7. Finally, add a dressing. It can be as simple as a splash of balsamic vinegar, or a squeeze of lemon juice; or something creamy, like yoghourt. My personal preference is to use oily accompaniments like olives or nuts rather than an oil-based dressing, but whatever you choose, a delicious dressing is an important finishing touch.

Here are some possible flavour combinations to get you started:
Tuna, white beans, olives
Chicken, asparagus, lemon juice, avocado
Marinated beef strips (cooked), capsicum, bean sprouts, rocket
Tofu, green beans, cashews, tamari-based dressing

If you’re eating away from home, an easy way to include a salad in your diet every day is to choose a salad sandwich. Just make sure it includes some protein, for sustained energy levels.

Buy organic foods currently in season if you can – they’re better tasting and better for you. If you’ve got space for a garden or herb patch, picking your salad vegies from your own garden is heavenly. Or its easy to grow some herbs or sprouts on your kitchen windowsill.

Happy salad days!

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Bad Breath

Saturday, November 01, 2008
It’s the problem even your closest friends have trouble mentioning.  Excuse me ………but your breath ……well ………..it’s not too sweet!

Bad breath can originate from several places in the body, but wherever it comes from, its all about bacteria.

1. Teeth or gums in bad condition, particularly teeth that need filling, are a breeding ground for some very odorous bacteria. If you haven’t had a dental check up for a while, or don’t floss regularly, this is the place to start your investigation.

2. One of the most common causes of bad breath however is what’s happening in the intestines. People with bad breath are often constipated. Generally speaking, you should have a bowel movement every day. If you don’t, take a look at some aspects of your diet:

- are you drinking enough pure water? (You need at least two litres every day)
- are you eating enough fibre? (You need 25-35g every day, from vegetables especially)
- Are you relaxed? Muscle tension from stress, particularly emotional stress, can affect the bowel muscles, and the production line that is our digestive process comes to a halt.

An effective way to check your bowel transit time is to eat some cooked beetroot – about 200-300g. The beetroot will colour your faeces, but won’t harm you. Ideally, you’ll see the results within 12-24 hours. Less than 12 hours means your bowels are too fast, more than 24 hours is too slow. (Keep in mind that beetroot will colour your urine temporarily red too.)

3. Intestines are heavily populated with bacteria – some are good, actively helping the digestive process along. Some bacteria are not so helpful. In an unhealthy bowel, the conditions are right for bad bacteria and fungi can grow unchecked. If digested food remains too long in your digestive tract fermentation starts, creating some very unpleasant smells.

Naturopaths approach the treatment of bad breath originating in the intestines like you would approach an overgrown garden – where there are unwanted weeds all over the place, and the conditions aren’t right for the good plants to grow. But get rid of the weeds, and improve the soil and feeding, then the good plants will bloom. The right herbs and probiotics bacteria are the tools we use.

A final test – have a look at your tongue in the mirror. Is it heavily coated with fur, particularly yellow fur?  If so, it’s probable that your metabolism is out of shape and your liver is struggling. This can contribute to bad breath too.

A cup of peppermint tea can help mask any bad breath, but if you’ve developed this unfortunate condition, its time to start investigating where it has come from.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'If Your Gums Could Talk'

Image credit: Duboix via MorgueFile

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How To Be An Informed Health Consumer

Friday, October 31, 2008
You’re keen to improve your health, so you probably try to obtain as much information as possible. But how do you decide what is worth reading and what isn’t? And how do you assess whether the information you find is worthwhile? Here's your five point checklist: The way to sift out what is accurate, what you really want to know, and what can be left unread.

When assessing any article about health news, doing research on the internet, or listening to a health-related message, applying these tests will help you decide:

  1. What is the message being delivered – is it just information, are you being urged to do particular things, or buy certain products?
  2. What are the qualifications of the person providing the information? Do you think these qualifications are adequate for the kind of information they’re providing? 
  3. Does the article talk at length about a particular product or brand? If so, the ‘information’ could be thing more than an advertisement.
  4. Beware of emotionally loaded language. Heart-rending stories can influence you a lot, particularly if the story closely matches your experience. Information which generates fear should be assessed sceptically, as inciting fear is a well-used advertising ploy.
  5. Look at how the information has been gathered. Is it the result of a planned research project? Are you informed how the research was done, and how many people were studied? Obviously, information about a product that helped your girlfriend’s mothers’ cousin’s neighbour does not qualify as ‘research’!

‘Evidence based’ is a term which is widely used, and there are different types: ‘Clinical Evidence’ is the result of real life experience. In short, “we have tried it and it works”. Clinical evidence is strongest when it has been gathered over a long period of time, and with a large group of people.

Research papers are published after tests are carried out on large groups of people or animals, often with ‘blind’ or ‘double blind’ methods. This ensures that no-one knows whether they are getting the placebo or the substance being tested, and so results are more objective. It’s not uncommon for different research projects on the same subject to produce opposing results, which promotes much debate in the scientific community – and more research. 

There is real-life testing and artificial testing: ‘In Vitro’ means that the testing has been carried out in an artificial environment, such as a test tube. ‘In Vivo’ means that the testing has been carried out on a living body.

So, the next time you come across information about a particular disease, hear a health news item or read a health-related article, apply these simple tests and you’ll become a more informed health consumer.

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