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Olwen Anderson's Blog

How long will it take to rebalance my hormones?

Thursday, September 08, 2016
hormones take time to rebalanceWe’re so accustomed to instant gratification these days, it can seem reasonable for our bodies to respond instantly after starting treatment. But when it comes to re-balancing your hormones, there’s a time frame I’d like you to keep in mind: Three months. Although you can certainly expect some relief from your symptoms well before then, it’s important to give your treatment time to enable a sustainable change.

Hormone changes are slower because there are so many feedback checks and balances going on, and so many glands involved. It’s like having your body run by a committee. Your hypothalamus and pituitary glands in your brain are constantly sampling hormone levels and responding. But the hormones they secrete have to travel through your body, then locate the cells displaying receptors that fit before they can pass on their message. The cell takes action, but it can take a while for the master glands in your brain to hear about it. 

For PMS or period pain, your symptoms are likely to become more manageable within the first cycle. But for complex hormonal conditions like PCOS, endometriosis, perimenopause, or menopause, treatment time is longer as there are more body processes involved.

Women often become trapped by the expectation of instant results, particularly when it comes to self-prescribing; if you do this there isn’t a practitioner on hand to let you know the likely response. Often, too, self-prescribers focus only on the symptom relief (like hot flushes) when other factors are powerful influencers; like a sluggish liver, unrestrained stress, chronic inflammation.

You can speed up your recovery though to help improvement happen faster: 
  • Exercise helps, because it addresses the insulin resistance that’s behind so many hormonal problems. 
  • Support your liver through choosing fresh unprocessed foods over alcohol, caffeine and fast foods. 
  • Extra fibre through vegetables boosts your levels of sex hormone binding globulin, a protein that pulls excess hormones out of circulation. 
  • Meditation and other mindfulness-based practices reduce your cortisol levels – that creates a very positive cascade of both physical and emotional improvements. 
  • Go to bed early enough. 
  • Eat a protein-based breakfast to support stable blood glucose levels through the day. 

Supplements may be needed; but relying on them to do all the work for you is likely to make your recovery frustratingly slow; the solution is rarely just one supplement or just one corrective action for a hormonal problem.

After three months of treatment (presuming you’re doing the work!), when you’ve got to where you want to be, we’re likely to begin gradually withdrawing support, as your hormones may now be able to hold their own. 

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Balance Your Hormones with Linseed and Legumes'

Image credit: Pippalou via MorgueFile

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Smoke alarms of your health

Saturday, September 03, 2016
Being woken by a smoke alarm would have to be the ultimate ‘get up and go’ tool. If you’ve ever experienced this, as I did last night, you know how fast the noise and the adrenalin surge can wake you; and how long it takes to calm down so you can return to sleep. 

What set it off? Who knows – no smoke, no fire. But then it began to chirrup, to let me know that the battery was out of juice.  For whatever reason, your columnist hadn’t complied with the recommended practice of annual battery replacement. Now fully alert and cursing my slackness I asked Mr Google the important question: Why oh why do smoke alarm batteries fail in the middle of the night when the shops aren’t open? Why not during standard business hours?

Google helpfully advised that if your battery is almost flat it’s more likely to fail in a cold atmosphere. Power generation is temperature-sensitive. Since its cooler at night, this is why you’re more likely to be woken by a disgruntled smoke alarm in the early hours of the morning. Just what happened.

If I had been more conscientious about replacing that battery I wouldn’t have had to go through this experience that did nothing to improve my relationship with my neighbours.

Like smoke alarms, our bodies send us subtle messages from time to time to let us know that maintenance is needed, to prevent big health problems developing.

Initially, your body sends subtle messages of a problem:  Like deepening fatigue.  Stiff or painful joints. The myriad signs of a less-then-optimum digestion. Or the people who know you well complaining you’re just not yourself lately.  Ignore these problems and the signs from your body are likely to get louder, more persistent and intrusive.

You could stop, take stock, and seek out a professional check-up. Make some changes and return to complete health. Or you could choose to carry on regardless, hoping that you’ll get away with inaction. And you might. But you could soon find yourself in an uncomfortable and regretful position as I was with the smoke alarm, wishing I’d taken the preventative steps to save me a lot of trouble and inconvenience.

Time to ask the question: Is your body sending you any important messages about your health?

Now I’m off to apologise to my neighbours for waking them. And purchase a new battery for that smoke alarm.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy 'Staying on top of your health challenges' 

Image credit: Alvimann via MorgueFile

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Meet the pacemaker cells of your gut

Saturday, August 27, 2016
outhouse by lisasolonynko via morguefileHow irritating it is when your life has been controlled by the toilet for quite some time. Frequency and urgency are often the most problematic aspects of IBS, and yet they’re often the last symptoms to disappear as treatment progresses. Blame a particular type of nerve cell embedded in your bowel wall.

They’re the “interstitial cells of Cajal”, pacemaker cells of your intestines. Discovered in 1893 by the pathologist Santiago Ramon y Cajal, their job is to send slow-wave electrical impulses to the smooth muscle that pushes food along the digestive tube leading from your mouth to your anus. The development of electron microscopy some 30 years later enabled scientists to confirm that despite being nerve cells, the interstitial cells of Cajal do their own thing regardless of what the main nervous system is doing.

Embedded in the bowel wall as they are, these cells are vulnerable to damage when sensitive bowel tissue around them becomes inflamed, infected or irritated. They become inflamed too, and can’t do their job to keep your bowel timing under tidy control. The result can be frequency, urgency, or constipation. Perhaps this is why IBS sufferers meet with such debilitating bowel symptoms as urgency and incompleteness that calls them back to the toilet three times in an hour. And why constipation can be so difficult to shift.

Knowing that the cells of Cajal can be restored means there’s the prospect normal bowel timing can be restored; but to enable this any chronic low level inflammation within the bowel has to heal. This can be particularly important for people with recurrent diverticulitis, whose bowels may not recover completely before the next flare-up. When you’re recovering from a diverticular flare-up, feeling better than you did is good, but you need to persist with treatment until you’re completely recovered. It’s too easy to get used to feeling not-quite-right.

Understandably, when it comes to healing tissue the original irritant or infection that’s driving the inflammation needs to be addressed; whether it’s from recurrent diverticulitis, bowel infections, or reactions to certain foods.
Natural therapies for healing the digestive tract include herbs, nutrients and homoeopathic remedies; and, understandably, avoiding foods that irritate a sensitive gut. Better stress management is essential too, enabling the protective mucous layer to regenerate. Your gut has amazing abilities to restore itself, but you need to provide the right conditions to help it heal.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Nine Clues Your Intestines Have a Functional Problem' 


Gfroerer & Rolle Interstital cells of Cajal in the normal human gut and in Hirschsprung disease Pediatr Surg Int (2013) 29:889897 DOI 10.1007/s00383-013-3364-y

Lee et all 2005 Decreased density of interstitial cells of Cajal and neuronal cells in patients with slow-transit constipation and acquired megacolon. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology (2005) 20,1292-1298 DOI 10.1111/j.1400-1746.2005.03809.x

Spiegel et al 2015 Development and validation of a disease-targeted quality of life instrument for chronic diverticular disease: The DV-QOL Qual Life Res 24:163-179 DOI 10.1007/s11136-014-0753-1

Strate et al 2012 Diverticular disease as a chronic illness: Evolving epidemiologic and clinical insights  Am J Gastroenterol 107:1486-1493 DOK 10.1038/ajg.2012.194

Image credit: outhouse by lisasolonynko via morguefile

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How anaemia and hypothyroid are connected

Saturday, August 20, 2016
fatigue can come from anaemia and hypothyroid“I’m so tired” – it’s a comment I often hear from women. There’s tiredness that’s relieved by a good sleep. Then there’s a different kind of fatigue, that won’t ease no matter how many hours you spend with your eyes closed.

Women seem particularly vulnerable to this kind of exhaustion thanks to our tendency to anaemia (iron deficiency) and hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland). But one influences the other: did you know that anaemia can be what’s behind your under-functioning thyroid? Here’s how each of them works:

Your thyroid largely determines how much energy your cells will generate, but it’s a complex process through producing thyroid prohormone T4, converting it to the active T3, and ensuring not too much reverse rT3 thyroid hormone is produced. Then there’s the input from your endocrine system supervisors, the hypothalamus and pituitary, which decide, based on feedback, how hard to push your thyroid gland to work. 

Iron is the mineral we all need to enable blood cells to absorb and transport oxygen. But iron plays a big part in other body processes too - including thyroid hormone production. Scientists discovered this through a novel experiment that I’m glad I didn’t participate in. University students were recruited and lowered into a warm bath, which was then cooled down. The participants spent enough time in that cold water to watch a movie the scientists thoughtfully provided to keep them entertained. Imagine spending your afternoon immersed in a cold bath, while researchers periodically check your temperature and draw blood. Ah, the things we’ll do for science.

Their study concluded that being deficient in iron does affect your thyroid hormones. There’s an iron-reliant enzyme that converts the prohormone T4 to the active thyroid hormone T3. Insufficient iron stores means the larger quantity of thyroid hormone needed when things get cold just isn’t available because the raw materials aren’t on hand to create it.

Curiously, it’s the ferretin form of iron that impacts thyroid hormone production. There are two different types of iron in your body – serum iron, which is what’s available for immediate use; and ferretin, which is stored iron which has to be converted to serum iron to be useful. A blood test reveals how much of each you have. 

So if you’ve got an underactive thyroid acting like a ball and chain on your energy, it might be advisable to check your iron levels as well.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy reading my free e-book "The Empowered Hypothyroid" 

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Staying on top of your health challenges

Saturday, August 13, 2016
Take action to help manage your health challengeSome health problems are minor: like catching a cold, for instance. You know it will pass with time, and you can obtain tools to help it pass faster. Some health challenges, though, are unlikely to depart of their own accord. These are the chronic health issues you know have to be managed; they can’t be cured. Despite being intractable, there are still things you can do to ease the burden.

One of the researchers who’s been working out who copes better with health challenges and who doesn’t is Susan Folkman, a scientist and clinician who devoted her work life to helping discover what promotes coping when people are faced with sometimes awful situations. She’s now retired, but in 2000 she wrote a paper on how people maintain their psychological well-being during serious illness. Her observations make interesting reading for anyone facing a serious problem; because she may have uncovered how we can cope better (psychologically) in these circumstances.

Professor Folkman found there were basically two forms of coping: Passive, where you don’t feel you can influence the situation.  This apparently leads to withdrawal from people, self-pity, feeling bad. Or there are and active approaches, where your mind takes you on a journey promoting positive emotions and effective coping. It doesn’t necessarily fix the problem, but you’re likely to feel better, in stages. 

The first stage we go through is appraising the new situation, perhaps when you get the official diagnosis: Just how bad is this? Are there any obvious opportunities here? Of course, most of us also feel resentful about what’s happened; that’s human. 

The second stage is assessing how much you can control or change the situation, and here’s where your sense of self-efficacy empowers you. The greater your sense of control with this challenge, the better you’ll feel. Examples of active coping strategies with a health problem are researching information about your disorder, joining a support group, seeking out medical specialists. Doing.

On the other hand, a passive coping strategy (withdrawal, self-pity) has been shown to promote depression. And anxiety. And reduced quality of life.  Follow this path and you get to feel bad psychologically as well as physically.
So, it seems that understanding there’s something you can do, no matter how small, and believing that you have the ability to do it, creates positive emotions. Working on a health challenge, it seems, helps us be happier despite our difficulties.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Remembering Your Strengths in Tough Times' here.

Paper:  Folkman, S Greer, S;  Promoting psychological well-being in the face of serious illness; when theory, research and practice inform each other Psycho-Oncology 9: 11-19 (2000)

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Heart health nutrition: Change is happening

Saturday, August 06, 2016
heart health nutrition now favors low carbohydrate dietsEight years ago I wrote a booklet advising how to lower cholesterol levels naturally. If you still have your copy, I’d like to you turn to the diet advice pages and gently rip them out – because what I wrote then simply isn’t of use any more. 

Since those words were printed our knowledge about nutrition has evolved considerably. A growing band of scientists and writers are pointing out that our earlier paradigms around cardiovascular wellness were mistaken.

Let’s go back a few decades, when heart disease and what could cause it was a growing concern. At that stage our understanding of its nutritional cause could be summarised as this: “Eating cholesterol and fat causes our body’s cholesterol levels to rise. Fat clogs up your arteries and causes heart disease.  Therefore fatty foods, and cholesterol, are bad for you.” 

This hypothesis made its way into nutrition recommendations. Everyone keen on health became focused on minimising fat and cholesterol, and ate more carbohydrate instead. But what transpired wasn’t the expected blossoming of improved health across the population. Instead, levels of obesity and diabetes began to skyrocket. Today’s researchers believe this over-focus on carbohydrate foods and reduced fat consumption is what’s behind the soaring rates of obesity and diabetes. 

It seems that the prior research on fats was a little too selective, and all too readily supported. Fat was erroneously tagged as ‘bad for you’. But our lived experience of low fat eating is suggesting we need to reconsider.
You may despair that “they’ve changed the rules again”. But It’s normal for nutritional recommendations to keep changing. It’s a good thing actually, because it means that science is continually challenging beliefs, researching more, generating new findings.  Scientists publish their findings expecting them to be challenged by future scientists. 

The new paradigm is that fat isn’t the cause of heart disease, it’s about inflammation, which is sparked by…wait for it….too much carbohydrate and sugars in your diet. 

Some of the backlash against low fat high carb eating has been extreme, with some proponents advocating excluding carbohydrates altogether in favour of extremely high fat intakes.  The more balanced approach, perhaps, could be to check that you aren’t overdoing the carbohydrates or the fats. Focus on eating real, unprocessed foods – like our great grandparents did. They weren’t so obsessive about it all.

And the book? No need to toss it out; the advice on exercise and stress management is still useful.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'The Trap of the Low Fat Diet' 

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Olwen Anderson @olwenanderson


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