Naturopathy Archives - Balm Natural Health

3 foods to eat before Christmas

Posted by | Balm Blog, Blog, Diet, Digestion, Food intolerance, Health, IBS, IBS, Microbiome, Naturopathy | No Comments

Can it really be time to start thinking about Christmas already? How did that happen?

Do you sometimes worry about how the excesses of food and alcohol at Christmas time will affect your health and digestion? Do you sometimes deny yourself that extra serving of Christmas pudding or the extra dollop of gravy or brandy custard because you know your gut will punish you for it later? Well what if I told you it has more to do with what you eat in the lead up to Christmas rather than what you eat on the day!

Our own personal internal farm yard

It all comes down to the state of your microbiome, or the colony of bacteria that reside in our large intestine.  You can think of it as your own personal internal farm yard. There are many different species of microbes or animals in this gut colony. Some are beneficial to us and get along well with everyone else in the colony. These could be the chickens, sheep and cows. Some are star players and keep law and order amongst the rest of the inhabitants. These could be the working dogs or the prize bulls. Others can cause damage and disruption. These could be rabbits, rats and ticks. The cleaner the environment we keep for our farmyard, and the better the quality of food we feed the inhabitants, the healthier they will be and the more the ones we want in the farm yard can grow, flourish and reproduce.

Most of the genetic material in your body is not your own

Because these microbes that live inside our intestines are living beings, they each have their own genetic material and produce their own wastes and metabolites directly into our digestive system. Did you know that we have such a large number of microbes living in our gut that the amount of genetic material they contain is hundreds of times greater than the amount of genetic material in our own cells. This means that your microbiome can have a greater influence on your health than your own genes! 

The picture below shows just some of the ways this colony of gut bugs can influence the way our body functions. The metabolites they produce can directly affect our immune system, heart health, nervous system function and bone health, not to mention digestive health. The more we feed our personal colony the right foods, the happier they will be and the more the types of species we need in our gut will flourish. So the better we feed our gut bugs during the lead up to Christmas, the better the health of our farmyard on Christmas day and the more resilience we will have to enjoy ourselves on the day.  

What to eat before Christmas?

There are a number of foods which have been shown to enhance our microbiome. (If you would like a copy of the full list, just send me a message.)

However, simply concentrating on the following 3 foods during the next couple of months will benefit you on Christmas day.

  1. Natural rolled oats
  2. Blueberries
  3. Colourful vegetables.

These foods will provide what your farmyard needs to make it happy, harmonious and function well. Namely fibre, resistant starch, polyphenols, fructo-oligosaccharides and inulin. These things provide nourishing food for the gut bugs and the right environment in which they can thrive.

Late last year I did a 2 part blog titled “What is the Microbiome and does it need probiotics?” Read it here.

Part 1 –  http://www.balmnaturalhealth.com.au/what-is-the-microbiome-and-does-it-need-probiotics/

Part 2 – http://www.balmnaturalhealth.com.au/what-is-the-microbiome-and-does-it-need-probiotics-2/

Sleep and the modern day body clock

Posted by | Balm Blog, Body clock, changing habits, Circadian rhythm, Health, hormones, Insomnia, Naturopathy, Sleep | No Comments

In our modern day lifestyles, our body’s desire to stick closely to a set sleep/wake time (our body clock or our circadian rhythm) is often overridden, ignored and generally abused. The fact that shift work has now been classed as a carcinogen is surely proof of the importance of working with rather than against our body clock.

There are actually circadian clocks in every organ of the body and never before have we lived so out of tune with these circadian rhythms.  There is even a term for this. It is called social jet-lag and refers to the misalignment between our biological clock and our work and social schedules. One of the main consequences is poor, broken or inadequate sleep. This then causes fatigue and anxiety and can heighten any other underlying conditions such as allergy, hormone imbalance ad weight gain.

The way to manipulate our body back into a regular rhythm and improve sleep is to provide our body systems with the right cues at the right time to encourage the body into a strong, regular rhythm where all organs are in tune.

One of the biggest cues our body clock responds to is light and dark cues.  Because we now expose ourselves to so much unnatural light late into the evening (lights, television, computers, phones etc) we confuse our body clock and force it backwards. These lights inhibit the production of melatonin which is important for sleep initiation. Many people find themselves laying there wide awake when they first get into bed, but then struggle to wake up when the alarm goes off. These people may believe themselves to be natural night owls when in reality they have just confused their body clocks. The best way to combat this is to keep lights turned down and switch televisions, computers and phones off at least an hour before you want to get to sleep. If that’s not possible, you can get devices or glasses to block the stimulating blue light emitted by these devices.

Another strong cue used by the body to set our internal clock is eating and fasting. It is recommended to keep your eating to a 10-12 hour window during the day. There is a close relationship between the gut microbiome and the circadian clock and so eating late at night will confuse our sleep/wake rhythm. This disruption then contributes further to weight gain meaning that the timing of your calorie intake contributes to obesity beyond the simple fact that you consumed extra calories.

Activity and inactivity are also strong cues for circadian rhythms. If you find you have to drag yourself through your morning, exercising first thing on a regular basis can convince the body that early morning is wake up time. Similarly, exercising late into the evening  disrupts the body’s wind down and can make for a poor sleep followed by a tired, sluggish day.

Keep in mind that your body prefers to be in a strong, regular pattern and you can manipulate this by giving your body awake time cues during the morning and day with sunshine, activity and healthy food.  Then use slow down cues at night with lowered light, less activity and stop eating well before bed time.

Body temperature also follows a circadian rhythm and having a warm bath or shower before bed can also help initiate sleep as the drop in body temperature following the warm shower is another trigger for the body to fall asleep.

Contact me if you’d like a copy of my sleep tips handout.

What is the Microbiome and does it need probiotics?

Posted by | Balm Blog, Blog, Detoxification, Diet, Digestion, Food allergy, Food intolerance, Health, IBS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Naturopathy, Weight Gain, Weight Loss | No Comments

Part 1

We’ve all heard about our gut bacteria and been told we need to have a balance of more good bacteria to bad, but is it really that simple?

What is the microbiome and where does it come from?

Our microbiome is the collection of living microbes that live in our large intestines and are essential for health. A healthy microbiome can synthesise important vitamins that the body can’t get in any other way, helps strengthen and regulate your immune system and is important for healthy bowel habits and waste elimination. These microbes are originally colonized from our mother own microbiome during pregnancy and birth. If your mothers microbiome was unhealthy at this time then this puts your ongoing health at a disadvantage from day 1.

Our gut holds around 2kg or 38 trillion microbes. In fact, the amount of genetic material in your microbiome may be many hundreds of times greater than the genetic material that makes up your own genes. This effectively means that your gut bugs have a greater influence on your health than your own genes.

Mostly the collection of different species of microbes work well together and are collectively referred to as your commensal microbiome. Various diet and lifestyle choices can create an environment in our gut where pathogenic or ‘opportunistic’ microbes get the chance to grow and prosper. These microbes are inflammatory and disease causing and are usually kept under control by our commensal species until such an opportunity arises. Antibiotic use is a good example of a situation where these nasty microbes, which are always present in low numbers, find an opportunity to thrive. This is called dysbiosis and cause all sorts of problems.

What can ‘dysbiosis’ do to you?

There is a strong pathway of communication between the brain and the gut. This explains why stress can have such a strong and immediate effect on your gut. For example, have you ever experienced needing to run for the bathroom when confronted with an acutely stressful situation? But the communication works the other way too. Your gut bugs can strongly influence mood and brain function and can even make you crave certain foods (especially fat and sugar when the pathogenic species are thriving).

This ‘dysbiosis’ of the gut mircobiome can lead to health issues such as digestive complaints, toxicity from inefficient waste removal and this can lead to foggy brain, skin disorders, fatigue, poor sleep and muscle and joint inflammation. You can develop nutrient deficiencies because your commensal bacteria aren’t able to synthesise important vitamins. Much of your immune system also presides in your gut and having dysbiosis can make you more susceptible to allergies, colds and flu, food intolerances and even autoimmune conditions.

What makes a healthy microbiome?

Researchers have spent a lot of time trying to work out which microbiome composition is the most healthy. They found there isn’t one! They tested the microbiomes of a number of healthy, indigenous communities but discovered that their species of gut bugs were all quite different. The thing they did find was that the most healthy people had the most diverse microbiomes. That is, the greater the number of different types of species present in your gut, the better your health. In fact, low bacterial diversity has now been linked with obesity, insulin resistance, inflammation, autism and bowel disease.

 

Check in again in early December for part 2 of the microbiome and find out exactly how probiotics work (it’s not just about replacing the good bugs) and what you can do to directly influence your microbiome diversity.

Image courtesy of Scimat Scimat at Getty Images

Changing Bad Habits

Posted by | Balm Blog, Blog, changing habits, Diet, Health, Naturopathy, Physical stresses, self prescribing, Sugar, Weight Gain, Weight Loss | No Comments

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!

 

Image courtesy of namakuki at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Eliminating intolerant foods – good idea or not?

Posted by | Balm Blog, Blog, Diet, Digestion, Food allergy, Food intolerance, Health, IBS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Naturopathy, Supplements | No Comments

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.

Detoxification – is it necessary?

Posted by | Balm Blog, Detox, Detoxification, Diet, Digestion, Fat, Health, hormones, IBS, IBS, Naturopathy, Weight Gain, Weight Loss | No Comments

Our bodies are busily detoxifying all the time, so is it really necessary to do a detox? The answer is yes due to the dramatic changes we’ve seen over the last 100 years. Historically our detoxification processes were generally completely adequate for our needs. These days, the speed at which toxins enter our body has increased dramatically while our bodies ability to deal with these toxins is generally compromised by our modern day diet and lifestyle.

Imagine a bucket being filled with water from a tap while water escapes through a hole in the bottom of the bucket. If the tap is turned up and the hole is slightly blocked the bucket will soon fill.

Now imagine the bucket is your body and the tap represents toxins entering your body (via the mouth, your skin and your lungs). The hole in the bucket represents your body’s detoxification processes. Just as the bucket fills, your body soon becomes overwhelmed with a build up of toxins. This can be expressed as fatigue, headaches, body aches and pains, poor immunity, digestive issues, mood disorders and hormone balance issues.

A good detox program aims to not only unblock the hole in the bucket, but to also turn down the tap.

Just some of the benefits of a good periodic detox include:

  • It can reset your appetite, decreasing sugar cravings and assist weight loss
  • Happy, healthier, glowing skin
  • Lots more energy
  • Better sleep
  • Better moods
  • Less colds and flues
  • Better concentration and motivation
  • Better digestive processes (less bloating, discomfort, nausea

Balm offers a number of detoxification programs and packages, including the program offered through Metagencis.

Click the links below to check out the various detox packages available from Balm.

2 Visit Personalized Detoxification Program

4 Week Detox Kits

The Human Naturopath

Posted by | Balm Blog, Blog, Diet, Health, Naturopathy, Sugar | No Comments

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)

Posted by | Balm Blog, Blog, Diet, Digestion, Health, IBS, IBS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Naturopathy, Sugar | No Comments

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

Am I Toxic?

Posted by | Balm Blog, Detox, Detoxification, Naturopathy | No Comments

In just the last 2-4 generations, the number and concentration of toxins we are exposed to everyday has exploded exponentially, however, our inbuilt detoxification processes have hardly evolved at all in this same time period. When our bodies struggle to keep up with this increased load, we can be left feeling fatigued, run down, anxious, and foggy. We may experience poor skin quality and eczema like rashes, hormone disruption and thyroid or reproductive dysfunction, recurrent infections, digestive issues, food sensitivities, weight struggles, hair loss and unexplained aches and pains or tingling sensations.

One of the big culprits is mercury toxicity due to fish consumption or old dental fillings. Mercury fillings release inorganic mercury in liquid and gas form which is then inhaled and swallowed. One of the ways it is excreted from the body is via the kidneys and so urine testing is one of the best tests to detect your level of exposure to inorganic mercury. Methyl mercury is a highly absorbable form of mercury obtained from eating fish and is easily diffused into the circulation where itcan cause many problems. It can take up to 60 days for the mercury from 2 tins of tuna to get out of your blood. Hair testing is one of the best ways to assess methyl mercury exposure. Blood tests can also be performed for further details of toxin exposure, but all these tests can become very expensive. However, there are also comprehensive questionnaires you can do which are free and can give you a very good indication of your general toxin exposure and how it may be affecting you.

Here at Balm Natural Health we can arrange these questionnaires for you as part of your initial consultation. We then assess your results and can formulate a naturopathic detoxification program tailored specifically to you.

 

Image courtesy of Suat Eman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

What the MTHFR!

Posted by | Balm Blog, Blog, Cardiovascular disease, Detox, Detoxification, Diet, Health, Naturopathy, Supplements | No Comments

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.