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Olwen Anderson's Blog

How To Create New Health Habits

Friday, November 14, 2008
Spring is a wonderful time of year, isn't it. I notice more people out and about in the mornings – training on bikes, or out jogging, or on their way to the gym for a class. Clearly many more of us are keen to get healthier now that the weather is warmer.

It made me ponder what it is that makes some people pick up a new health habit and just get on with it, while others give up trying after the first couple of days. Which category do you fit into? If you find it difficult to establish new health habits, like regular exercising, here are some tips to help you make the change successfully this time.

Our existing habits and routines add comfort and security to our lives. Its known as 'the comfort zone' for a good reason – it really is easier to keep doing what you've been doing, and your subconscious will cause you to feel uncomfortable if you try to step outside your comfort zone. To get past it, ignore the feelings of discomfort until your new habit is well established. Soon you'll be feeling so much better you'll wonder what all the fuss was about.

Let's say you decide that you're going to exercise every day, perhaps a 30 minute walk around your neighbourhood, or attending an aerobics class at the gym. Both these activities require commitment to get a result, and yet no-one will punish you if you don't do them either. 

Your first step is to decide what your new health habit is going to be. Make it achievable, write it down and display it in a place where you will see it often. The first day or two will be fairly easy, but soon the exercise gremlin will land on your shoulder. This sneaky creature will whisper in your ear, explaining why you don't need to exercise (you did it yesterday, you're too tired, you can start again tomorrow…etc). This gremlin is actually your subconscious getting uncomfortable because you're moving outside your comfort zone. Flick the gremlin off your shoulder, slip on your exercise shoes and "just do it".

After a few weeks of successfully keeping your commitment to yourself, you'll feel so much better that its easy to flick the exercise gremlin off your shoulder on the rare occasions he visits you. Well done!  

After a few months of carrying out your new health habit, you'll realise that it actually feels odd not to keep to your usual routine of daily exercise. 

You can help yourself develop this new habit even more effectively by exercising at the same time every day. It will automatically become part of your routine. As we're all human, you might "fall off the wagon" a few times, but don't give up – just visualise how great you'll feel when you realise you've successfully established a new, healthy habit that's helping you enjoy life more.

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Creamy chicken, corn and pumpkin soup - dairy free

Thursday, November 13, 2008
For one person
1/4 onion, sauteed gently in olive oil
1 clove garlic, sauteed with the onion
one cup of Jap pumpkin, diced and thrown in with the onion
one 375ml carton of chicken stock, added to the pot
Bring to the boil and simmer 10 minutes
Remove from heat and puree with hand-held blender
Add 100g chicken thigh, diced, and kernels from half a cob of corn
Return to heat and simmer 10 minutes
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Taking Antibiotics? Remember The Probiotics

Wednesday, November 12, 2008
We are all carrying some extra passengers in our intestines: Friendly bacteria, over 400 species in fact. As we have evolved, these bacteria have evolved with us to result in a mutually beneficial relationship.

These friendly bugs help us absorb vital minerals and nutrients, and boost our gut immunity. They compete with pathogenic (bad) bacteria for space and resources, and actually produce substances which help keep the population of bad bacteria in check. If you're stressed or run down, your gut environment changes, making it easier for pathogenic bacteria to take over.

Antibiotic medication will kill the good bacteria in your gut as well as the pathogenic ones. You can often tell when the bad bacteria have taken over – they produce lots of toxic gases, bringing on abdominal bloating, discomfort and some very anti-social levels of flatulence. The toxins they produce can inflame your gut wall too, which makes it harder for you to absorb nutrients from your food. Sometimes they're active enough to bring on feelings of queasiness too, as your liver struggles to cope with the high level of toxic byproducts from their intestinal party antics.

 If you are taking antibiotics, here are some important steps you can take to re-populate your intestines with good bacteria and improve your well being at the same time. 

- Start taking a probiotic supplement, and continue for a few weeks after you have finished the course of antibiotics. Buy a small bottle, and choose a different brand every time as each brand will supply a different blend of friendly bacteria. You can buy probiotics at your local health food store.

- Take your probiotic supplement in the evening, with a fibre-based food like fruit or legumes, as more bacteria will survive the trip to your intestines when they can hitch a ride on fibre. Ever noticed that advertisements for probiotics boast of the high numbers of bacteria in each dose? That's because some of the bacteria won't make it past the very acidic environment in your stomach. 

- You should take your probiotic supplement in the evening, as your gut is more active overnight.

- If you are not dairy intolerant, 100g of plain yoghourt every day is a great probiotic supplement, and has been used in many cultures for centuries, along with other fermented foods, to promote bowel health. Make sure the yoghourt is young (fresh) and enjoy several different brands for the best effect.

The probiotic bacteria will start to elbow out the bad bacteria, and help calm any bowel inflammation they've caused. Now that you know how important those good bacteria are, remember to pick up a bottle of probiotics when you pick up your antibiotic prescription.

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Four Natural Ways To Win The Battle With Hay Fever

Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Its one of the hallmarks of spring that I see every year. Lots of people with red eyes, sniffly noses, and bouts of sneezing. It reminds me that spring is here, and so is the annual hay fever season.

Some people's immune systems have become over-reactive to some naturally occurring airborne particles, particularly pollens from all those new flowers. Immunoglobulins, a component of your immune system, continually patrol your mucous membranes. When they encounter an invader, they alert other members of your immune system to release histamine and throw off the foreign particles – by sneezing and producing lots of mucus to wash it out. 

Unfortunately, some of us have immune systems that have become over-reactive, leading to a full scale histamine release when only a moderate response is necessary to do the job. 

If you suffer from hay fever, you'll be pleased to hear that there are many natural remedies available to help your immune system calm down.

One old home remedy is to submerge your hands in water as hot as you can bear. This will ease the sneezing and running nose within minutes, but as most of us can’t remain tethered to a handbasin all day, its not practical in the long run.

Another, very effective remedy involves a small change in your diet. Naturopaths have long found that people who consume a large amount of dairy food are more prone to hay fever. Try excluding all dairy from your diet this week and see how your hay fever responds. (That's all milk, cheese, butter, cream, ice cream and yoghurt from cows or goat or any other animal). Some people find that excluding dairy from their diet during the hay fever season is all they need to do for a big improvement in their symptoms.

For the third remedy I must issue a warning as well, as mega doses of vitamins can be harmful. Some people find that chewing on a 500mg vitamin C tablet relieves their sneezing for about 15 minutes, then they might have to repeat once or twice more for a long term effect. Vitamin C is actually a natural anti-histamine, and acts by 'hosing down' the excessive histamine release by your mucous membranes. However this remedy should not be used by children, by anyone on medication (it might interact negatively), or if you have a kidney disorder. If in doubt, check with your doctor or pharmacist.

And finally, there are some excellent homoeopathic remedies available 'over the counter' to ease your symptoms. Your local health food store or pharmacy will have some in stock. The beauty of homoeopathics is that they're safe for everyone to use, and won't interact negatively with any medications.

So, now you have some natural tools to help you overcome your hay fever, you can enjoy the wonderful flowers of spring without worry!

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Five Ways To Avoid The Fast Food Trap

Tuesday, November 11, 2008
As I locked up my clinic tonight, I got a surprise. Across the road is a famous (national brand) pizza take-away. Its often open when I head home – but what surprised me tonight was the number of customers. People were queued out to the street waiting to order their dinner. It made me wonder how often people eat take-away as their evening meal.

Although occasional fast food isn’t so harmful (by ‘occasional’ I mean once every three months or so), it occurred to me that some people might not know the strategies cooks use to put together a fast, nutritious meal at home that will boost their health. Qualified chefs seem to be able to put a glamorous meal together within minutes, but most of us don’t have the same level of expertise!

So this week I’d like to offer you some alternatives to save you from yet another take-away dinner, and suggest some of the home made, more delicious alternatives that can be prepared in around the same amount of time.

Most fast food is extremely processed, with a high proportion of salt, sugar, fat, preservatives and additives; low in fibre and nutrients. A natural, healthy diet, in comparison, contains a wide variety of unprocessed or raw foods, prepared as freshly as possible. But if you are a busy householder pressed for time, it may seem that there’s just not enough time to prepare a spectacular feast from scratch every night. Here are some ideas to help you bridge the gap, and serve up some healthy meals for your family:

- Obtain a slow cooker. These wonderful devices can cook your meat or chicken while you’re at work, then all you have to do is steam accompanying vegetables when you get home. Cooking the vegies will probably take the same amount of time as it would to wait for your pizza order!
- Keep that BBQ on the verandah operational over winter. This is a fast way to cook chicken or fish, then serve with some salad or steamed vegetables.
- If you own a wok, meals can be created in just a few minutes using meat, vegetables and a spicy sauce.
- When you make up a labour-intensive dish for dinner like tuna mornay or lasagne, make double. Serve half, and freeze the other half to re-heat on a busy night.
- Preparing a simple home-made soup from scratch only takes 30 minutes. You could serve it with wholemeal bread on a cold winter’s night.

Taking a few minutes to prepare home-cooked meals will give you and your family a better standard of nutrition. It will be easier on your wallet too!

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Seven Ways To Boost Your Study Performance

Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Are you studying this year, either at high school, TAFE or uni? Do you know you can boost your study performance with a little attention to your well being? You can aim to feed your brain cells with optimum nutrition, and keep your energy levels steady right through to the end of the semester. Here's how:

1. More Protein Please! Your brain cells require protein to build neurotransmitters to help you think, so a steady supply of high quality protein is essential. Think eggs, seafood, chicken, kangaroo meat. Aim to enjoy some high quality protein at every meal.

2. Boost Your Brain Cell Flexibility: Essential fatty acids (from omega 3 oils) will boost the flexibility of your brain cell membranes, so they can perform better. You can find a good supply of omega-3 oils in oily fish like sardines, salmon and tuna, and also walnuts and linseed. 

3. Put Away Those Lollies: Avoid using sugary foods to give you a boost. Our brains actually use up a huge proportion of the glucose in our bloodstream, and without that steady supply our thinking suffers. That's why foggy thinking is so often a symptom of a big blood sugar slump mid-afternoon. To keep your blood sugar level well regulated, enjoy five small meals a day, each one containing a protein food and a raw food.

4. Too Much Caffeine Can Be Too Much For You! Caffeine from coffee and caffeine-laced soft drinks will give you an instant boost, but may also leave you feeling edgy and anxious. Not the way you want to be when you enter the exam room!

5. Get Out There And Move: Regular exercise will give you time out from your studies, and re-set your stress hormone metabolism. It will also help regulate your blood sugar level. You'll finish your training session feeling rejuvenated and ready to study again. Make sure its exercise you enjoy – like playing a game of basketball, going for a surf, that sort of thing.

6. Take Time Out: Time out will actually boost your creativity with your studies. Some people enjoy meditation, others an engrossing hobby like painting. Anything that requires you to focus on something other than your studies.

7. Sleep! Go to bed in line with your normal routine. Burning the midnight oil can leave you feeling burnt out the next day.

Here's a sample diet for a day to help your study performance:

Breakfast: Sardines on Toast, plus fresh fruit.

Morning tea: An apple or banana and a handful of walnuts

Lunch: Salad with chicken or egg

Afternoon tea: Hummus with carrot sticks; or corn thins topped with turkey, avocado and tomato.

Dinner: Kangaroo mince rissoles with vegetables.

In summary – eat regularly, choosing high quality food; avoid artificial stimulants, and remember to take time out every day to rejuvenate yourself. Good luck!

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Nine Bowel Signs You Shouldn't Ignore

Monday, November 10, 2008
Here’s a new habit that’s going to help you manage your health better. Next time you have a bowel motion, turn around and actually take a good look – your faeces can give you some valuable clues about your bowel health.
Here are nine signs that can alert you to problems. Some disorders are minor, some can drain you of energy and nutrients, and some can be signs that something more sinister is happening in the abdominal area.

1. Changes in form one day to the next can be indicative of a range of disorders. An extreme example is hard lumpy stools one day, and watery diarrhoea the next. The ideal form is soft yet firm.

2. Can you see undigested food particles in your faeces? This may indicate a shortage of digestive enzymes, or that your food is zooming through your intestines too quickly to be digested properly.  Without adequate time for digestion, important nutrients may not be absorbed, leaving you malnourished in the long term.

3. Pale, clay coloured stools may indicate problems with your liver. It’s the bile produced by your liver that gives stools their brown colour. Generally speaking, the more bile produced, the darker the stool. Its normal for stool colour to vary between mid brown and dark brown depending on what you’ve eaten.

4. Thin, ribbon-like stools indicate bowel inflammation of some description. Remember that the intestines are a tube. With inflammation comes swelling, so thin stools are a sign that all is not well.

5. Faeces streaked with blood calls for immediate professional attention.

6. Explosive diarrhoea can be the result of a parasite infestation. Is your water supply from a rainwater tank? Our delightful subtropical climate is also ideal for breeding parasites, like Giardia and Blastocystis Hominis. When did you last worm yourself and your family? Or clean out your rainwater tank?

7. Persistent constipation for over three months may alert you to a problem, particularly when you know you’re already eating 25-35g of fibre every day.

8. Feeling bloated can indicate a food intolerance. Identifying the culprit food group yourself is tricky, particularly as symptoms may occur up to four days after eating the problem food. Food allergies, in comparison, tend to produce immediate and rather unpleasant, sometimes even life-threatening symptoms.

9. Persistent pain in the abdominal area occurs in a range of conditions, and should not be ignored.

Some of these symptoms are collectively known as ‘irritable bowel’ although the causes behind them can vary from person to person. Fortunately, there are a host of remedies available to successfully address this condition, and natural therapies excel in addressing bowel disorders.

As humans, we tend to forget just how long a problem has been going on. If you’re unsure, try keeping a diary of your bowel movements for a week – frequency, form and colour - to get a clearer picture.  Just remember to keep looking before you flush!

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Six Reasons To Choose Organic Food

Sunday, November 09, 2008
I’ve been asked a couple of times lately whether organically labelled food is really organic. So I thought I’d write a little about why choosing organic is such a clever move for your health, and how to make sure that what you’re buying is really organic. 

We have a choice now – organic food is more widely available than ever before; even in the major supermarkets. But why make the decision to switch to organic when you have the choice? Here’s why:

Organic food tastes better. This is particularly noticeable with apples and tomatoes, but with most other foods too.

Organic food is grown using full spectrum nutrient fertilisers. This means that the plant can take up more nutrients, and that the soil remains viable. Organic food is purported to have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals as a result, although this is a subject of heated debate in the scientific community!

Because organic farmers use only natural substances to fertilise their crops, care for their animals, deter pests and combat disease, the farmers are not exposed to any harmful chemicals, and the environment is not polluted.

We are all exposed to non-natural chemicals every day. Our bodies have some ability to excrete them, but if we’re overloaded, our bodies will try to store the toxins where they won’t cause any harm. Often this is in fat tissue. Some industrial chemicals are hormone disrupters, potentially causing hormone imbalance disorders. Choosing organic reduces your exposure to these chemicals.

Some organic farmers use biodynamics, energetic remedies to further boost the life force of their crop. For a real taste treat, try biodynamic almonds or walnuts. 

To maintain the health of their animals, organic farmers use natural remedies – herbs, nutrients and homoeopathy. This makes them completely free of chemicals and artificial hormones. I particularly enjoy cooking my breakfast egg, knowing that the hen that produced it has had a happy life.

Genetic engineering is a relatively new practice in agriculture that may detrimental effects in the future. Organic food is not genetically engineered.

Organic growers must undergo a lengthy and exhaustive process to obtain the ‘certified’ logo which guarantees you are buying a truly organic product. When you buy a certified organic product you will see a retailer or producer number. Growers are regularly audited to ensure their compliance, and any organic product can be traced back to its source through the food chain. By looking for the certification logo and producer number you can be sure that the food you are buying is truly organic.

Because organic food is so widely available now, the gap between the price of organic and non-organic food has narrowed considerably; particularly in the areas of dairy, flour and bread. Next time you shop for food, enjoy the extra benefits you can get from choosing organic!

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Healing Bursitis And Tendonitis

Saturday, November 08, 2008
While some of us are more bony than others, nature has fortunately provided all of us with miniature ‘cushions’ in specific joints, to help prevent our bones from rubbing against each other. These ‘cushions’ are called bursa, and are literally small sacs of connective tissue filled with fluid of an egg-white consistency, synovial fluid.

The knee joint is one area well supplied with these bursae. There are two: The pre patellar bursa which is in front of your kneecap, and the suprapatellar bursa, which sits just above and behind your kneecap. There are two bursae in your shoulder too – located deep within the joint to help cushion the complex arrangement of bones and large range of movement of this joint. Some tendons in the body are also provided with bursa-like sheaths, particularly in areas where there are large numbers of tendons crammed together, increasing the potential for constant friction – as within wrists and ankles.

The bursae can become inflamed or be damaged as easily as other areas of the body. Frequent causes of injury are over-use, infection, or auto-immune disorders such as rheumatism.  ‘Tennis elbow’ or ‘Housemaid’s Knee’ are commonly used expressions for soft tissue injuries in these joints.

Damage to a joint, whether due to bursitis or other cause, manifests as stiffness or limitations in movement, and pain. To put it simply, if you feel pain when moving a joint, something in it needs attention. 

The best natural treatments for bursitis are both internal and external. Nutrients can reduce the inflammation and provide the raw materials for cells to repair themselves. Herbal creams or ointments can penetrate to help the joint heal. As with all musculo-skeletal injuries, manipulative therapies will speed the healing process. Massage can promote blood flow to the area and removal of wastes, and soothe muscles which have worked hard to compensate for problems in movement. Acupuncture can be of particular benefit too.

If you are interested in the psychosomatic basis for body problems, the joints represent ease of movement through life and flexibility with change. Shoulder problems can indicate a heavy load of burdens in life to carry.

Rest of the affected area for several weeks is essential - it takes that long for the tissue to heal to a point where it won’t be injured easily again.

Understandably, the earlier you treat an inflamed joint, the sooner it will heal and the sooner you will be out of pain and mobile again. It may seem easier to try to ignore the problem in the hope that it will just go away. But pain is a sign from your body that it needs attention. Your health professional can help you decide which form of treatment is best for you.

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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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Olwen Anderson @olwenanderson


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