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Changing Bad Habits

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Approximately 45% of what we do each day is habit. All habits were once conscious decisions we made which we continued with until it became an automatic behaviour.

Why are habits so difficult to change?

Habits are strongly influenced by all of our previous life experiences, plus, people generally prefer an immediate reward over more significant, delayed ones. This is known as delayed discounting and was the subject of a cute experiment with children which you’ve probably seen on tv. Children were told they could either have a marshmallow now, or if they waited 15 minutes then they could have 2. Many found that 1 marshmallow too irresistible and were not able to adjust their behaviour in order to wait 15 minutes and alter their outcome.

Willpower

But changing habits also requires a certain amount of willpower. Willpower is like a muscle in that it can fatigue with use. Our willpower is stronger in the morning and once we have used it 3-4 times in a day, it generally starts to decline. How many times have you woken in the morning with the intention of eating well and exercising but then found yourself on the couch that evening with a glass of wine saying, I’ll start tomorrow? This is why it is easier to change a morning habit than one later in the day.

The Cue

There are 3 components to every habit: a cue, the behavior itself and the reward. One key to establishing good habits is to manipulate the cue. For example, if your plan is to go for a run after work on Monday nights, then before you leave the house that morning, lay out your running gear and bottle of water where you will see it as soon as you walk in the door. Then you don’t have to think too much. Just change into the gear, pick up the bottle and off you go. Remove as many distractions, road blocks and reasons to make excuses as possible.

The Reward

If the reward of feeling good after the run isn’t enough to sustain the new behaviour until it becomes a habit, maybe use the reward of a small piece of chocolate straight after the run as incentive to establish the behavior.

Goal-setting and self monitoring

It has been found that one of the most effective behavioural change techniques is the use of goal-setting and self-monitoring. Be accountable to yourself and track or chart your results. Couple that with some short term dedicated willpower and you are in the best position for creating a new habit. See attached my Exercise Diary which you can use or adapt to track your progress in the behaviour you want to change or implement.

Substitution

When it comes to eliminating bad habits, substitute that bad behavior with a better behaviour. For example, if sitting down in front of the tv on a week night is your cue to pour yourself a glass of wine, try substituting the glass of wine for a herbal tea or some other healthy drink. The cue of sitting on the couch at night will eventually no longer be associated with wine. Whats more, I can assure you that when you do allow yourself that glass of wine on the Saturday night, you will enjoy it so much more!

 

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Eliminating intolerant foods – good idea or not?

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Food elimination can sometimes change the quality of your life for the better, once you’ve worked out what food it is you need to avoid. But is this a good idea long term and is it necessary to avoid this food then for the rest of your life? The good news is no! Most people don’t have to do this forever.

People eliminate certain foods for many reasons. There are of course particular cultural, ethical and personal beliefs behind many dietary eliminations. People also cut certain foods because they believe they have an intolerance. They may have experienced symptoms such as stomach upsets, rashes or insomnia. Sometimes people are truly allergic, in which case, consuming that food can be dangerous or even life threatening.

In actual fact, the only people who really need to completely avoid a particular food are those who do have a true anaphylactic allergy. However, only 2-5% of food reactivity is actually due to a true allergic reaction. The rest are generally intolerances that have developed over time.

Digestive processes

Food intolerances can develop for a number of reasons. For example, a reduction in stomach acid and digestive enzyme levels as we age can make it more difficult for us to properly digest a food. This means it is still relatively undigested when it reaches the bowel, leading to bloating, diarrhea, cramps and other irritable bowel like symptoms as the bad bacteria in the gut have a field day. Reflux medications often make this situation much worse.

Gut lining health (leaky gut)

When the integrity of the lining of the digestive tract is compromised it can lead to a situation termed leaky gut. This often happens post a viral sickness, food poisoning, stress or having consumed antibiotics or something that has irritated the gut (like NSAID anti-inflammatory drugs). Having leaky gut allows toxins, bacteria and whole proteins to enter the blood stream, confusing the immune system. The immune system sees these things as non-self and goes in for the attack, allowing allergic, hyperactive and autoimmune types of conditions to be expressed.

Microbiome balance

When the colony of microbes in your gut are unbalanced (usually due to poor diet, stress or illness) this too can lead to the development of symptoms from eating foods you once had no issue with.

FODMAPs

FODMAPs are certain classes of natural foods that are often found to be the culprits of irritable bowel symptoms. People who suffer from FODMAPs issues usually find that eliminating the foods in the category they have an issue with clears up their IBS symptoms. However, the FODMAPs diet was never meant to be long term. Usually a FODMAPs issue arises due to one of the above changes in the digestive tract. The idea is to temporarily remove the food, allowing the digestive system to heal and recover. After a period of 1-3 months, slow reintroduction of the food should occur without issue.

Food diversity is so important

Eliminating a food permanently is not getting to the underlying reason of why that food is causing issues. Limiting foods long term has been shown to reduce quality of life and in some cases may even worsen health. This is mostly because good health is correlated with a good diversity of the microbes in your gut (your microbiome). The more diverse the variety of natural foods you eat, the more diverse your microbiome and the better your general health.

The good news

The idea is to eliminate the offending food or foods for a period of time while working on healing the gut lining, righting digestive insufficiencies and adding diversity and harmony to the gut microbiome using certain nutrients, herbs and probiotic strains. Once the healing is complete, the foods can be added back in one at a time to ensure they are now tolerated. If you have irritable bowel issues or food intolerances you would like addressed, se me for a tailored treatment plan.

The Human Naturopath

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What type of naturopath would you prefer to see? One who’s just like you who has a few vices and enjoys their life (but knows when and what to rein it in to keep healthy)? Or one who is a purist and never relaxes their high level expectations, looking down at you from their conceitedly perfect existence? I’m sure a lot of people resist going to see a naturopath because they think they won’t be able to live up to their perceived expectations of what they’ll need to do. They may think “I don’t want to have to buy everything organic” or “I like my wine and chocolate too much and don’t want to be told I can never have it again” or “I don’t like goats milk, carob, or kale and I’m sure I’ll be told to have these instead of the foods I love”.

The beauty of naturopathy is that it is tailored to the individual. It is in my best interest to create a treatment plan that will not only be effective for you, but also feels realistic and achievable for you. What is the use of a perfect treatment plan if it is just too hard to follow. A person who is completely daunted is more likely to do nothing at all. On the other hand, if the instructions are not scary and feel achievable, they are more likely to follow them and will get far better results.

As a real, non-purist naturopath I come from a place of non-judgement and acceptance. How can I relate to my clients and their health struggles if I’m perfect! I like a wine and some chocolate often, I love a really good licorice all-sort and why on earth would I say no to a piece of my friends birthday cake. I don’t live an organic, macrobiotic, gluten free, dairy free, vegan lifestyle so why would I expect you to. Life is about moderation and balance and being healthy most of the time but knowing when to enjoy yourself and take the pressure off. Besides, it promotes relaxation, connection with family and friends and happiness and all that “good” far outweighs the occasional “bad”.

We are all on our own health journey, some of us are just at the beginning and other may be well advanced. The benefit of seeing a naturopath is that we work with you and your lifestyle and where you are at on your health journey. This ensures you obtain results that are realistic and achievable for you.

I’m sure most people would prefer to go to a naturopath who’s not a purist living the perfect existence. What about you?

FODMAPs – A simple solution for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

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Last blog I spoke about small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) as one of the main causes of IBS. I briefly mentioned that one of the main treatments which brings relief to 90% of IBS sufferers is to follow a low FODMAP diet. So what is a FODMAP?

It’s a bit of a mouthful but FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and ployols. Essentially, it is an indigestible sugar that ferments in the gut and provides fast food for bowel bacteria, allowing them to produce excessive amounts of gas.

Two of the biggest culprits within these categories are fructose (a monosaccharide mostly in fruits) and lactose (a disaccharide mostly found in diary food). Two foods which seem to be the most problematic for people with FODMAP issues are (unfortunately) onion and garlic and these should always be eliminated when attempting a low FODMAP diet.

The important thing is the amount of bacterial gas produced, and the way our bowel does or does not cope with it. This is what produces the common symptoms of IBS, namely abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating, flatulence and diarrhoea or constipation. Generally your system can cope with a little of your problematic food, or a little of a few foods from within your problematic FODMAP category. However, once a certain threshold of the FODMAP sugars is reached, that is when symptoms are triggered. This is why it can be so difficult to work out which foods are problematic for you because sometimes you can eat them with no problems and other times you can’t.

The great news is that once you work out which foods or FODMAP categories are a problem for you, cutting them out of your diet temporarily seems to greatly alleviate, if not completely resolve the symptoms for around 90% of IBS sufferers. The even better news is that after only 1-3 weeks most people can begin to reintroduce their problem foods and usually find that after having given their system that short break, they no longer experience the same issues from eating that food.

Monash University has developed an app you can purchase for around $10 which contains information, recipes and a traffic light system for hundreds of foods, products and condiments. It lets you know which category any particular food falls into so you can soon work out if you have an issue with just one of the FODMAP categories or several. It has the ability to create shopping lists, personal notes on particular foods, and has a 7 day trial you can follow to assess your body’s response to a low FODMAP diet.

Balm Naturopathy can assist you with working out which foods may be causing you a problem. Or, if you believe you have already tried eliminating FODMAP foods and are still experiencing symptoms, Balm can help explore alternative causes and devise a treatment plan to address those causes and bring you welcome relief.

Image by Carlos Porto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

What causes IBS?

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More than 1 in 10 people will suffer from some form of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) at some point in their life. The main symptoms can include bloating, gas, a sense of urgency, excessive stomach noises and abdominal pain or discomfort. It is often accompanied by either diarrhoea or constipation, or can alternate between the two. Doctors generally state that they do not know the cause and will diagnose IBS when all other conditions have been ruled out. There is also not a lot on offer medically besides antacids, pain killers and laxatives. However, Naturopaths have been successfully treating IBS for many years and have much to offer in terms of addressing the initial cause as well as symptomatic relief.

So what can cause IBS? It is now accepted that 60-80% of IBS is due to “Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth”, also known as SIBO. SIBO occurs when bacteria which should only be present in the lower, large intestine (or bowel), migrate up the digestive tract into the small intestine where they do not belong. Some of the main signs that SIBO is present include:

  • Bloating and gas shortly after eating, rather than a couple of hours later.
    This is because the food encounters intestinal bacteria as soon as it begins to leave the stomach and before it has been completely digested.
  • Symptoms improve after antibiotics.
    This is because antibiotics kill off bacteria, including those in our gut, good and bad. As this lowers the number of microbes in the small intestine, symptoms improve.
  • SIBO is usually worse for fibre and prebiotic foods.
    This is because fibre is food for gut bacteria allowing them to thrive. This activity produces gas and by products not meant for the small intestine.

So what causes bacteria to migrate up into the small intestine? One of the main triggers is a case of food poisoning. This impacts gut immunity (where most of our immune defences are located). It can also slow the efficiency with which our digestive system moves food along in the one direction. This is called the migrating motor complex and can become temporarily impaired during a bout of food poisoning, allowing bacteria to travel backwards up the digestive tract. Other things can also affect this one directional flow of food including surgery, stress, abdominal adhesions, other chronic diseases such as ulcerative colitis, general gastroenteritis and a diet high in poor sources of carbohydrates. Pharmaceuticals can also contribute and it is estimated that 50% of people who commonly use antibiotics, the contraceptive pill and antacid drugs such as Nexium develop some degree of SIBO.

There is an easy way to test if you have SIBO. It is a simple breath test that can be done at home. It measures the levels of hydrogen and methane gas in your breath as these are the by products of the bad bacteria in the small intestine. Your naturopath can arrange this test for you and design a treatment plan to eradicate the bacteria and relieve your IBS symptoms.

As a side note, one of the main things which can have a major impact for around 90% of IBS sufferers, is to avoid FODMAP foods. Exactly what these are and why this helps will be the subject of the next blog!

Image by jk1991 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

What the MTHFR!

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Ever heard of MTHFR?  It’s a somewhat suggestive acronym for an important enzyme in the body used to convert folic acid into a useable form. It’s been getting a lot of press lately because about 50% of the population has a mutation in the genes that produce this enzyme, potentially leading to a whole host of common symptoms and health complaints. This enzyme (called methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase or MTHFR for short) is extremely important for a process called methylation. Methylation takes place in the body over a billion times a second and is required to:

  • process and eliminate toxins;Folic Acid graphic
  • produce cellular energy;
  • create neurotransmitters (which can affect mood and memory);
  • produce internal antioxidants important to protect the body;
  • build and maintain DNA, cell membranes and myelin (which coats our nerves so they function properly); and
  • promote effective immune function.

Methylation is also needed to reduce the level of homocysteine in the body. Increased homocysteine is a known cardiovascular risk factor. Another very important thing impacted by this mutation is pregnancy. We know it is important to take folic acid to prevent neural tube defects, however, if you have this mutation, folic acid may not be as effectively utilized by the body. It is now thought that this un-metabolised folic acid could accumulate to toxic levels in genetically susceptible people, increasing the risk of miscarriage and other birth defects.

Poor functioning of MTHFR is associated with around 60 different health conditions, including diabetes, infertility, anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue, cancer, cardiovascular disease, insomnia, allergy, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and dementia.

There is a simple, inexpensive test you can take to see if you have this genetic mutation which naturopaths can order.

The good news is there is much you can do to lower the impact of this gene mutation. The most important thing you can do is to eat your greens!  They provide you with naturally occurring folates which are more easily utilized in the body than the cheaply produced, synthetic folic acid form used in so many supplements. This is the safest way to ensure you are providing your body with useable forms of these important vitamins as overdoing supplements containing activated or methylated forms can potentially lead to other health problems. Therefore it is important to see your naturopath who can prescribe the correct forms at the correct dose according to your needs and genetic make up. They can also directly assist your detoxification processes and improve your general health and vitality which in turn reduces the expression of any detrimental gene mutations such as MTHFR.

Winter programs at Balm

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This winter Balm has a couple of new programs, in addition to general naturopathic consultations. Free health checks and a 2 visit detoxification program.

Free Naturopathic Health Check

During Friday’s at Knoxfield this winter, come in for your free half hour naturopathic health check. Bring in your latest blood tests to see if they fall within the “optimal range”. Find out your body fat percentage, hydration level, muscle mass percentage, assess your diet and lifestyle and find out your level of disease risk. Learn some simple tips you can use to improve your health and energy levels and lower your risk for major health complaints before they develop.

2 Visit Detox Program

Sliced capsicums

The number and concentration of toxins we are exposed to everyday has exploded exponentially over the last 2-4 generations, however, our bodies detoxification processes have hardly evolved at all during this time and struggle to keep up with this increased demand on our system.

Detoxification needs to be individualised, targeted, gentle and thorough. You don’t want all your good work wasted by recycling toxins straight back into your system so they can settle back where they started.

Our Naturopath Rebecca has a new “2 Visit Detoxification Program” which offers exactly this. See the Detoxification Program page for more information. This program is available at both Knoxfield and Wantirna. Call 0414 957 555 or click the book now button on the home page to arrange a time for visit 1.

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Recent Successes at Balm

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Here at Balm Naturopathy we believe in celebrating our successes. Below are a couple of success stories that have emerged from the last month.

Rising PSA Levels

Prostrate problems are of concern to all men. Two of the main issues are benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), which occurs in 90% of men over the age of 70, and prostate cancer which kills thousands of men every year.

The symptoms of BPH and prostate cancer include frequent, difficult or painful urination, slow, interrupted flow and blood in urine or semen. Ignoring these symptoms can be dangerous and Balm always recommends a visit to your doctor to have such symptoms explored medically. The good news is there is much that can be done naturally to improve prostate health and lower cancer risk.

Recently a 76 year old male presented to Balm Natural Health with rising PSA levels after having had a prostatectomy a few years ago. This was the last thing he expected after such a procedure. The client wanted to ensure he was doing everything he needed to decrease his cancer risk and increase his general health and wellbeing.

After 2 months of treatment focusing on diet and supplements to increase antioxidant intake, improve prostate health and an increase in exercise, his next PSA reading had reduced from 0.11 to 0.06.

The client is very pleased and is continuing to follow the recommendations and supplements prescribed and will continue with ongoing monitoring of PSA levels to ensure he remains on the right track.

Frequent colds, sinusitis and antibiotic use

So many people find they get every cold and flu going around and can’t seem to get through a single season without having to resort to antibiotics at lease 2 or 3 times. Antibiotics have a very detrimental effect on the microbiome oThumbs up man - picturef the gut and this can actually have a lasting negative effect on the body’s immunity. Much of our immunity originates in the gut and when gut health is suboptimal, this opens the body up to all sorts of immune issues such as infection, allergy and autoimmune issues. Last year, a 40 year old male with a history of frequent colds, sinusitis and antibiotic treatment presented to Balm Natural Health. On average he was receiving antibiotic treatment every 1-2 months. After 8 months of treatment involving supplements to regulate his immunity, particularly via gut health, adjusting his diet, and addressing stress, he is now feeling better than ever and has not had a single cold or need for antibiotics for over 4 months.

This client has now adopted some permanent changes in his diet and lifestyle and has moved to exploring other health goals such as maximising his already raised vitality and boosting fertility with the hope of soon adding another member to his family.

Do you know someone who is constantly unwell and seems to fall victim to every cold and virus going around? Or do you know someone concerned about rising PSA levels, or anyone who has any other sort of health complaint who might need the help of Balm Naturopathy? If so, please send them the link to this blog and encourage them to book in online for a consultation.

Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Published with consent from the clients involved.

Stressed about your cholesterol?

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For years we have been avoiding fat in our diets wherever we can, believing that by doing so, we will keep our all important cholesterol number down, saving us from cardiovascular disease. New findings suggest it is not quite as simple as this and that cholesterol itself may not be the real problem at all. There are actually at least 395 identified cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors and I believe cholesterol has received far more than it’s share of attention.

Cholesterol meterCholesterol is extremely important in the body. It is the main building block for production of all the important hormones such as oestrogen, progesterone, testosterone, cortisol and aldosterone (produced by the adrenals to regulate blood pressure and the rate of water lost from the body). Cholesterol is needed to make vitamin D, as well as bile which is produced by the liver to help digest fats. Cholesterol is also found in the membranes that surround every cell in the body, making it important in skin health. It keeps skin hydrated and helps it maintain an effective barrier against bacteria and irritating substances. Cholesterol is also important in immunity and brain function.

Doctors typically prescribed statin medications to lower cholesterol levels. These drugs come with a long list of side effects, not the least of which is an increased incidence of cancer and cardiovascular disease! Yes, the very thing they are meant to be preventing by lowering your cholesterol is a listed side effect. Statin medications block the pathway in the body by which it makes cholesterol. This is the same pathway by which the body creates coQ10, an extremely important antioxidant which also enables every cell in the body to produce energy. It is also highly protective against oxidative damage, which is one of the main problems leading to the build up of plaques in the blood vessels leading to heart attack and stroke.

When doctors test blood for cholesterol readings, they actually measure a number of things.

  • Total Cholesterol
    New research suggests this number has little correlation with CDV risk
  • LDL (low density lipoproteins)
    LDL is sometimes also referred to as the bad fat
  • HDL (high density lipoproteins)
    HDL is sometimes referred to as the good fat because it is protective and gathers up cholesterol to transport it safely back to the liver
  • Triglycerides
  • The ratios of HDL to LDL and HDL to cholesterol

The main thing to be concerned with is your HDL:LDL ratio and your triglyceride numbers. You want the HDL:LDL ratio to be less than around 3.5 (ideally the lower the better) and your triglycerides to be around 1.0 mmol/L (fasting) or less.

The real problem occurs when inflammation in the blood vessels act on these LDL’s and triglycerides. This damages the blood vessel wall and causes cholesterol to accumulate and adhere to the wall, resulting in a blockage. Inflammation is caused by a diet of excess sugar, preservatives, trans fat and alcohol, as well as smoking and excessive stress. When blood fats are in good condition and circulating in healthy, undamaged blood vessels, they are actually protective against this damage and build up. It is only when inflammatory damage has occurred that plaques can form.

Obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle are still the biggest risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, and should be your first priority in the prevention of CVD. Exercise is one of the most effective ways to raise your HDL level, giving you a strong level of protection against CVD. Quitting smoking, eating less sugary, processed foods and increasing your intake of water and good fats from sources such as oily fish, nuts, seeds and fruits and vegetables are the best preventative measures you can take.

Your naturopath can prescribe numerous different minerals, herbs and supplements to lower blood pressure, protect against oxidative damage and give your heart and cardiovascular system all the nutrients it needs to remain as healthy and strong as possible.

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Self Prescribing from the internet – What could go wrong?

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There is so much information available on the internet right now, as well as plenty of opportunities to purchase “miracle cures”.  Many people self prescribe according to “Dr Google” but this can be very dangerous.  For example:

  • Desiccated thyroid extract purchased from international sites for hypothyroidism. Without taking the correct dosage and constantly measuring thyroid hormone levels, a person can easily throw their body into an opposite, and extreme hyperthyroid state. This can lead to side effects such as crippling anxiety, paranoia and mood swings, not to mention hair loss, excessive sweating and insomnia.
  • Even more common is the self administration of iron when people feel tired. Many other things can cause tiredness, plus there are types of anaemia not related to iron levels. Taking iron when you already have good levels is dangerous and can directly damage the liver and nerves and increase the risk of heart attack.
  • Some magic bullets for depression and mood disorders can throw out your balance of neurotransmitters making your situation dangerously worse, or adding other problems such as anxiety, aggression or phobias.
  • Even seemingly innocent vitamin supplements can be dangerous if not correctly assessed for the amounts present and accounting for amounts that may already be obtained from other supplements. For example vitamin A in excess of 700mcg retinol equivalents per day may lead to birth defects in pregnant women and excessive amounts of the trace mineral selenium can be toxic.
  • Cheap, bulk purchase fish oils usually are partially oxidized meaning the quality and quantity of EPA and DHA is significantly lower and the capsules are probably causing more damage than good. They are also usually high in contaminants such as mercury.

One problem with supplements bought on the internet is that they are not approved by the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) which is a department set up by the Australian Government to ensure that health products manufactured, prescribed and sold in Australia are registered, regulated and meet safety standards.

Quite often, herbs purchased on the internet don’t contain the correct species of herb in the correct quantities or even from the correct part of the plant. They may also contain dangerous, undisclosed excipients such as heavy metals and other contaminants. In Australia we are very lucky to have a number of manufacturers of safe, Practitioner Only products which have been TGA approved and have passed potentially hundreds of quality control steps.

When you see a qualified naturopath, you can be sure you are being correctly prescribed TGA approved, practitioner quality brands of herbs and supplements. They will work with you to discover why your body is not functioning correctly, what is causing your tiredness or why your iron levels may be low, and will give carefully considered dosages of natural herbs and supplements to help your body heal itself. They will know what herbs/drugs/nutrients may interact and should not be taken together and what supplements will be contraindicated in pregnancy, with high blood pressure or any other conditions in which you should be aware of possible interactions.

Picture of pillsNote: Always check that your naturopath is qualified and that they have been accepted as a member of an industry association. There is currently nothing stopping unqualified people calling themselves Naturopaths. This makes them potentially very dangerous, giving qualified naturopaths who have studied for at least 3 years, a bad name.

Image courtesy of tungphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net