Monday, September 22, 2008

Food for thought

We’ve all heard the phrase “You are what you eat” but have you really sat down and thought about what this actually means? Are you aware of the impact the food choices you make has on your health and to a greater extent, the impact this has on the environment? Climate change, sustainability, eco-friendly, carbon neutral, genetically engineered, organic, free-range and natural are terms we’re all familiar with and are becoming common inclusions in our modern day language. It’s something that we all MUST embrace in order to protect our individual health and that of our planet. If you haven’t thought much about it as yet, now would be a good time to start.

I remember backyard veggie gardens being more popular in the past compared to today and I’m sure the main culprit here is time, or a lack of. The supermarket has surpassed the veggie garden in terms of convenience and little thought is given towards how and where our produce is grown. Fast food and pre-packaged meals are all too tempting when it comes to those times when we are exhausted and the last thing we feel like doing is cooking. But are we doing more harm than good in purchasing these things?

We’re all aware of the importance of eating a well balanced diet in order to obtain the right balance of vitamins and minerals to sustain good health. It’s no surprise that convenience foods contain little nutritional value and with the preservatives and additives added to keep the food ‘fresh’, we are left with little else but empty calories. Eating these foods too often can lead to nutritional deficiencies, which over time can contribute to much more severe health problems such as cardiovascular disease, weight gain and obesity, diabetes, hormonal imbalances, chronic fatigue, immune deficiencies and many, many more.

Another important factor to consider is where exactly is our food coming from? Our meat and produce supply often travels quite lengthy distances to reach our dinner plate and during transportation, freshness and nutritional quality can often be compromised. Fruit and vegetables are often picked early and chemically ripened to ensure they are looking bright and fresh when they hit supermarket shelves. Add to this the fuel costs, the burning of fossil fuels and the resources used in production and transportation and you’ve got yourself an expensive, nutritionally challenged food source.

Synthetic chemicals have gained popularity in modern farming practices to ensure maximum results for minimal time and effort. Poultry and livestock are pumped full of growth promoting hormones and chemicals and our fruit and vegetables are sprayed with an assortment of pesticides to keep those pesky critters out. As these practices are only relatively new, we are unsure of the long term health and environmental effects this will have but we do have evidence of the short term effects.

These synthetic hormones and chemicals mimic our natural hormones and can contribute to greater hormonal dysfunction. Xenoestrogens, man-made oestrogens found in plastic products and synthetic hormones, add to our natural oestrogen pool and can contribute to an oestrogen dominant environment. This has implications with stubborn and persistent weight gain, fertility (for both males and females), endometriosis, uterine fibroids and possibly some forms of cancer[1][2]. They have also been detected in the offspring of some animals that have been exposed[3]. Don’t you think it’s reasonable to question the logic of releasing large amounts of chemicals into the environment without fully understanding the effects on ecology or human health? The same argument can be made for genetically engineered foods.

It’s not just important, but absolutely imperative, to be aware of these things and equally important to know it’s not all doom and gloom. Keep the following points in mind next time you are shopping and you will be putting a foot in the right direction. Change has to start somewhere so why not with you?

  • Buy local and organic wherever you can. This will ensure your food is fresh and free of synthetic chemicals-better for your health and hormonal well being. Local produce cuts down on transportation costs, which will make your purse and the environment happier.
  • Have a look around for farmers markets in your area and don’t forget to take a re-usable shopping bag.
  • Always read labels to be aware of genetically modified ingredients, additives and preservatives.
  • Plant a veggie and herb garden. If you don’t have much garden space, get creative with containers and pots.
  • Supermarket produce needs to be labelled with its place of origin so keep an eye on this.
  • Always buy local or Australian grown produce that is in season.
  • Eat as much raw, fresh foods as possible. This should be easier to do now that the weather is warming up and will provide you with essential nutrients to sustain good health.
  • Reduce your exposure to plastics to avoid unnecessary hormonal disruption and to reduce the environmental impact these products have. Always re-use shopping bags, recycle and carry a non-plastic water bottle that you can re-fill as you go.
  • Limit your consumption of fast foods and pre-packaged meals. Keep a range of nuts, seeds, legumes, fresh fruit & vegetables, fish and lean meat on hand to prepare your meals. They don’t have to be 3 course masterpieces; a salad, stir-fry or omelette is quick, easy and nutritious.
  • Walk to the shops instead of driving. You’ll save on fuel costs, save fossil fuel emissions and get fit at the same time. Exercise is also a great way to help your body eliminate excess toxins and hormones that can impact on your health.
  • Look after your liver to ensure it is able to process toxins and excess hormones. Limit alcohol consumption and increase your intake of bitter foods such as endive, chicory, silverbeet, radicchio, outer leaves of cos lettuce, dandelion root, and grapefruit.
  • Choose natural household and beauty products.

We are beginning to see the impact our food choices are having on our health and the environment. As consumers, we have a big say in what and how our food is farmed, produced and delivered and this is just one of the ways we as individuals can make a difference. What are you waiting for?

Emma Scasni is a qualified naturopath at MassAttack Health Clinic and has a keen interest in women’s health. Emma is passionate about all aspects of natural health and is happy to offer support and advice to new and existing MassAttack members. MassAttack specializes in natural treatment programs for women with hormonal imbalances such as PCOS, Fibroids, Endometriosis & thyroid imbalance. Narelle Stegehuis, CEO of MassAttack, is the recipient of the Australian Naturopathic Excellence Award 2006 and can be contacted at narelle@massattack.com.au

[1] http://www.fwhc.org/health/xeno.htm
[2] http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/65/1/54
[3] http://topics.scirus.com/Behavioral_effects_of_Xenoestrogens.html

Monday, September 15, 2008

Does it seem that your fat cells have a mind of their own?

Some of us just need to think cake for the scales to start spinning those numbers skyward bound. Believe it or not, fat does play an important role in our overall health. It is found in the lining of our cells, it cushions important organs and is the starting block to produce many hormones that our body needs in order to function properly. As with so many other things, fat consumption is all about balance and knowing how to achieve this balance will help towards maintaining a healthy body and mind.

Fat is an important source of energy and way back when the winter months prevented us from hunting for food, our fat stores provided our body with energy needed to survive. Thankfully, the supermarket has replaced the hunting ground and all we need to do is pop down the road to stock up on food for the week. With ever increasing demands on our time, exercise often gets overlooked and those fat stores keep growing, and in turn, so does our waistline and the health concerns that comes with this.

Having too much fat can interfere with your body’s ability to metabolise sugars, contributing to weight gain and predisposing you to Insulin Resistance, Metabolic Syndrome and Type II Diabetes. It can also increase the likelihood of reproductive problems. Excess fat, especially abdominal fat, is like an oestrogen factory and can lead to oestrogen dominant conditions such as heavy bleeding, irregular or longer periods, PMS, fibroids or endometriosis. On the other hand, too little fat can cause its own problems such as loss of menstrual periods and infertility.

Fat cells can only hold so much and when this quota has been reached, cells in fat tissue mature to allow for extra fat storage. This process continues as long as excess fat is present and maximum cell volume has been reached. When fat is released from the cell and the cell is not needed any longer, it shrinks and will either be put on hold in case it is needed in the future or it will die.

Changes in body shape around menopause are largely due to the deposition of abdominal fat. A decline in oestrogen levels seems to be directly related to an increase in central abdominal fat stores, among other common menopausal symptoms, and this may be the body’s way of trying to produce more oestrogen to balance the hormonal picture.

For some women, cutting calories and increasing physical exercise will kick start weight loss but for others, it’s not that simple. Other factors need to be taken into consideration before the body starts to release fat stores.

  1. Address hormonal imbalances: this will ultimately dictate how your body is utilising the food you are consuming and oversees what is used as energy and what is stored as fat. If you are experiencing problems with your menstrual cycle such as heavy or painful bleeding, an irregular cycle, continuous discharge or infertility, you could have an underlying hormonal imbalance. Your MassAttack program will identify your individual areas of imbalance and provide you with the tools needed to correct these.
  2. Reduce stress: apart from comfort eating when we’re stressed, elevated levels of stress hormones can slow metabolism, disrupt blood sugar regulation contributing to cravings, mood swings and energy slumps and favours abdominal fat deposition.
  3. Combat cravings: stabilising blood sugar levels through regular intake of protein based foods and snacks can help as can nutrients such as Chromium, Lipoic Acid and the herb Gymnema.
  4. Dietary modification: regardless of whether there is an underlying hormonal issue, eating smaller, healthy meals while increasing energy output will be a necessity for shifting extra weight.
  5. Develop an exercise plan you can stick to: this is an integral part to any weight loss strategy and should include cardio activities (aerobics, running/jogging & cycling/spinning), strengthening exercises (yoga or pilates) and resistance training (e.g. weights) to increase muscle mass. Increasing muscle mass will also increase your metabolic rate.
  6. Clean out your fridge and cupboards: remove temptation and get rid of the fatty, processed foods that seem so handy when we are in a rush. Eating healthy doesn’t have to take hours preparation. Keep sliced veggies in air tight containers in the fridge so they are ready when you are. It only takes a few minutes to throw together a stir-fry, salad or an omelette. Cut up carrot or celery sticks to dip into hummus or mashed avocado and keep a mix of nuts and seeds handy for a quick snack
  7. Don’t overfill your plate: it’s much harder to stop eating when there is food still on your plate so start with a smaller portion and listen to when your body tells you it’s had enough. Keep an eye on the size of your plate or bowl too as this will influence how much food you serve
  8. Eat slowly and without distraction: we are more likely to hear the full signals our brain is sending if we are not glued to the T.V., reading a magazine or eating lunch at our desk in front of the computer. Concentrate on what you are eating and allow enough time for your food to digest properly. Enjoy the experience.

Rather than cutting out fat altogether, focus needs to be placed on correcting those areas that are contributing to stubborn weight gain. Looking at what’s going on hormonally is a good place to start as this is a major factor that is often overlooked. Clean out your unhealthy thoughts and habits and replace them with positive, goal orientated steps to get you motivated and on the path to good health. Just think of how much better you will feel…

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Spring Detox time!

As the weather starts to warm up and the cherry blossom starts to appear (although I have noticed some sneaky ones in bloom already!), our thoughts turn to summer and how on earth we will squeeze into those dreaded bathers. Now is the perfect time to focus on your health to get you looking and feeling fit for summer. It’s a beautiful time of year so make the most of it and enjoy yourself!

The main player: When most of us think Detox, we think of the liver. This is one of our most important organs as most things we consume will pass through the liver for processing. The excesses of modern living can put a strain on the body as a whole so it’s no surprise that liver function can be compromised with the ongoing work load that it has.

Symptoms of a compromised liver include:

  • Menstrual irregularities: due to an oestrogen dominant environment that the liver can’t process efficiently. Oestrogen dominance is seen in conditions such as PMS, Fibroids and Endometriosis
  • Weight gain: due to hormonal imbalance and sub-optimal digestion
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Digestive upsets
  • Nausea
  • Reduced or non existent morning appetite
  • Poor sleep

Following are some easy Spring Detox tips to give your liver a helping hand and to get you on the road to good health:

  • Spring clean your fridge and cupboards. Eliminate refined carbs and processed foods containing trans fats, additives and preservatives. Apart from having the potential to be toxic to the system, these foods can really disrupt digestion
  • Eat more raw, fresh foods including fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, beans, legumes
    Include moderate exercise 3-4 times a week
  • Drink at least 6-8 glasses of water per day. I know you probably hear this all the time but this is a reflection of how important it is. Our bodies are 2/3 water and it is essential to many body processes. Not only will it help you remain hydrated, it will also help eliminate toxins
  • Start your day with the juice of ½ lemon in warm water. This is a fantastic way to cleanse your system and will get your day off to a fresh start
  • Increase your intake of bitter foods – endive, chicory, silverbeet, radicchio, outer leaves of cos lettuce, dandelion root, and grapefruit. These foods stimulate the liver by increasing bile flow, which will assist in removing those substances that your liver breaks down.
  • Limit chicken and meat intake to 1-2 times per week. Synthetic hormones used to farm these animals can interfere with our own hormonal system, adding to an already oestrogen dominant environment and contributing to weight gain and menstrual irregularities
  • Have a break from wheat and dairy to give your digestive system a much needed break
  • Ensure you are getting adequate amounts of fibre in your diet to assist regular bowel function. This will help bind toxins and hormones to get them ready for elimination
  • Limit alcohol consumption. In order to prevent liver damage, it is recommended to have no more than 2 standard drinks a day. 2-4 drinks per day are thought to be a hazard and 4+ drinks per day are thought to be harmful.[1] If weight loss is a priority, the extra calories alcohol provides should be further reduced to a maximum of 3-5 drinks per week
  • Reduce your coffee intake. Try herbal tea instead
  • Reduce your exposure environmental toxins where possible. Buy green/environmentally friendly cleaning and beauty products, reduce exposure to pesticides and plastics (glad wrap, plastic drinking bottles, plastic food containers)
  • Put some fresh flowers in the house or office to remind you of the new beginning that Spring brings and work towards turning over a new leaf

* It’s important to mention that a “healing crisis” may occur when beginning a Detox. This happens when you start to feel worse before feeling better and symptoms such as headaches, lethargy, digestive upsets and moodiness are not uncommon. This is a normal reaction to change and usually passes within a few days. Please also keep in mind that it is important to contact your health care practitioner before commencing a specific Detox program to make sure it is well suited to your needs.

The road to Bikiniville may not be a constant downhill slope but by adopting some healthy, positive changes today, you can start to get your body geared up for the summer months ahead. With the warmer weather fast approaching, now is the time to take control of your health and show yourself you can do it. You’ll be sparkling, inside and out!

Emma Scasni is a qualified naturopath at MassAttack Health Clinic and has a keen interest in women’s health. Emma is passionate about all aspects of natural health and is happy to offer support and advice to new and existing MassAttack members. MassAttack specializes in natural treatment programs for women with hormonal imbalances such as PCOS, Fibroids, Endometriosis & thyroid imbalance. Narelle Stegehuis, CEO of MassAttack, is the recipient of the Australian Naturopathic Excellence Award 2006 and can be contacted at narelle@massattack.com.au

[1] Ruth Trickey, (2003) “Women, Hormones & the Menstrual Cycle”, Allen & Unwin NSW, pg 384

Monday, September 1, 2008

PCOS

Continual, stubborn weight gain is something we hear about almost every day here in the MassAttack clinic. After a visit to the GP, so many women are told that they just need to eat less and exercise more. It’s no wonder so many of us get so frustrated with this response and we walk away thinking “Did he/she even listen to any of what I just said?” When healthy diet and lifestyle changes do not initiate weight loss, it might be time to look into an underlying hormonal imbalance such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.

PCOS is a condition that affects around 5-10% of Australian women of reproductive age and is the most common endocrine abnormality of women in this age bracket [1]. Before ovulation, hormones signal 100-1000 follicles to start developing in order for one to dominate and go on to rupture and release an egg, ready for fertilisation. When the hormonal signal is disrupted, the dominant follicle does not rupture, hindering ovulation, and forms a cyst[2]. This process is characterised by an increase in androgen (e.g. testosterone) levels and can be assessed via a blood test or ultrasound.

In order to diagnose PCOS, one or several of the following may be present:

  • Irregular or absent ovulation
  • Irregular or absent menstruation
  • Infertility
  • Hirsutism (male pattern hair growth)
  • Insulin resistance
  • Obesity/stubborn weight gain
  • Acne [3]

Risk factors:

  • Genetics: hereditary link between family members
  • Obesity: interferes with hormonal regulation, increases risk of insulin resistance
  • Insulin resistance: occurs when normal levels of insulin do not have the desired effect on cells, resulting in constantly elevated glucose and insulin levels. This can lead to diabetes, weight gain and may cause or contribute to androgen excess
  • Stress: may interfere with hormonal regulation and increase androgen levels
  • Hormonal imbalances[4]

Medical treatment has largely focussed on hormonal treatment (OCP, Clomid), weight loss or insulin resistance (Metformin, Diabex) but it is a mix of the above factors that are needed in order to achieve a positive outcome. Weight loss will be an uphill battle if tackled on its own so let’s look at the bigger picture to get the results you are searching for.

Address hormonal imbalance: It is possable to correct these imbalances via nutrients, dietary and lifestyle modification.

Increase phytoestrogens: foods such as nuts and seeds (especially flaxseeds), soy products, legumes, sprouts and fruits and vegetables all produce oestrogen like effects in the body and can help to balance hormones.

Regular exercise: 2-3 times per week will help with insulin resistance, oxygen transport, weight loss and toxic elimination.

Dietary modification: increase good quality protein (fish, lean meat, nuts, seeds, legumes, yoghurt) eliminate saturated and trans fats, increase fibre to assist elimination and limit hormones re-circulating through the system, limit carbohydrates to one meal per day (oats, brown rice).

Reduce sugar cravings and address insulin resistance: eat small, frequent protein based meals and snacks, which will help regulate appetite and metabolism, limit fruit and sugar intake. Herbs such as Gymnema or nutrients such as Chromium, Lipoic acid and Magnesium may be useful in regulating blood sugar levels.

Avoid coffee and caffeinated drinks: places undue stress on the adrenal system and can also interfere with blood sugar regulation.

Moderate alcohol intake: small amounts can have a protective effect but too much puts strain on the liver, which can disrupt digestion and elimination.

Reduce stress: may reduce adrenal output of androgens, help to improve energy levels, promotes inner harmony. Perhaps try a yoga class, go for a long walk, try some deep breathing exercises or try some retail therapy.

Hair removal: waxing and electrolysis discourages thick hair growth by thinning the hair shaft.

Taking a multifactorial approach to treatment will cover many of the varied aspects of this common health concern. Many of the complications of PCOS can be avoided through adequate nutrition and weight loss and a fully functioning hormonal system will be the result of your efforts. You’ll be amazed at how much better your body functions and how much better you feel. So, let’s get moving…

Emma Scasni is a qualified naturopath at MassAttack Health Clinic and has a keen interest in women’s health. Emma is passionate about all aspects of natural health and is happy to offer support and advice to new and existing MassAttack members. MassAttack specializes in natural treatment programs for women with hormonal imbalances such as PCOS, Fibroids, Endometriosis & thyroid imbalance. Narelle Stegehuis, CEO of MassAttack, is the recipient of the Australian Naturopathic Excellence Award 2006 and can be contacted at narelle@massattack.com.au

[1] http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/187_06_170907/tee10663_fm.pdf
[2] Suzie O’Donohue, Gynaecology: Approaches to Treatment with Natural Therapies, SSNT, 2003 pg 55
[3] Ibid
[4] Suzie O’Donohue, Gynaecology: Approaches to Treatment with Natural Therapies, SSNT, 2003 pg 56