Monday, November 24, 2008

Our love hate relationship with coffee

As a non coffee drinker, I’m yet to understand what all the fuss is about. Sure, the smell of freshly ground coffee beans is up there with pan fired garlic and Estée Lauder’s Pleasures, but the taste of coffee is never something I’ve enjoyed. Regardless, coffee has become a part of life and has crept into our culture at an alarming rate. Apart from the quick pick me up it provides, most of us are probably unaware of the effects caffeine has on our health.

Caffeine is a stimulant that, in theory, fits in well with our fast paced lives. Providing an instant energy burst, it allows the body to push through those times when we’d really rather not. Wether your poison is a latte, a cup of tea, soft drink or energy drink, the energy burst you experience occurs because of caffeine’s ability to quickly raise blood sugar levels. Just as quickly as these levels rise, so they drop, leaving us feeling tired, hungry, irritable and wanting more. The quickest way to fix this is to have another coffee or to just give in to those all consuming sugar cravings. Not ideal for keeping weight gain and insulin resistance at bay!

The stimulating effects of coffee do not go unnoticed by the adrenal glands. Mood and behavioural changes are spurred on by the release of cortisol, which continues to rise until the effects of caffeine have worn off. Your adrenals can only take so much and can reach a point of over-stimulation, leading to adrenal burnout. This can leave you feeling powerless and out of control. It puts you on a slippery downhill slope to the development of mood changes, ill health & weight gain since it affects so many different areas of your health.

Some other potential effects of caffeine include:
  • Insomnia and disruption of sleep patterns
  • Tremors, nervousness, restlessness and irritability
  • Headaches
  • Elevated fatty acid levels in the blood
  • Elevation of blood pressure and/or cholesterol levels
  • Irregular heartbeats and palpitations
  • Increased gastric acid production & aggravation of peptic ulcers
  • Increased symptoms of PMS
  • Higher risk of a low-birth-weight child
  • Increased urinary calcium losses

There is quite a lot of conflicting evidence on the pros and cons of caffeine consumption, but based on what we do know, minimal consumption is the best way to play it safe. As an addictive substance, caffeine can be difficult to give up. Cut your caffeine consumption down slowly to reduce the likelihood of your body going into Detox mode. This can leave you feeling anxious, irritable and fatigued with a blinding headache during the first few days of abstinence. Replace one cup of coffee with herbal tea or decaf until you can go without completely. You’ll no longer be running on empty and will be enjoying a greater level of health as a result.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Odd spots

Gone are the days of believing chocolate was to blame for the acne we experienced as teenagers. Personally, I suspect that the spread of this myth was mum’s way of getting us to eat more fruit. Acne is generally an accepted part of growing up, but it is with increasing frequency that we hear of women in their 30’s and 40’s that are still battling this problem.

Acne itself is caused by a blockage of the sebaceous glands of the skin. When there is an overproduction of sebum, excess oil and dead skin cells clog the pores. During puberty, increased hormone levels cause excess sebum production. This provides an important link in identifying a cause of adult acne. Among the many symptoms associated with hormonal imbalances, acne rears its ugly head in quite a few common conditions. It is estimated that 20-30% of women aged between 20 and 40 suffer from acne due to hormonal imbalances.

Let’s look at Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). This condition revolves around an increase in androgens (these are our masculinising hormones), which cause the classic symptoms of erratic/absent ovulation and menstruation, male pattern hair growth, acne and obesity. Looking back quickly to puberty, it’s a little easier to understand why adolescents, especially boys, are affected by acne due to high levels of androgens.

Here are some other examples of hormonal factors that can contribute to acne:
  • Excess weight: fat can convert oestrogen into hormones that behave like androgens, promoting acne by increasing the production of sebum.
  • Oral Contraceptive Pill: some OCP’s can cause acne by boosting sebum production.
  • Stress: studies have shown that women who work in competitive environments under stress can overproduce androgens. Many women juggle jobs, friends, family, financial commitments and many other life stresses which make adrenal glands produce more cortisol hormones, which can set off acne. Also, acne itself can cause stress!
  • Insulin resistance: metabolic abnormalities, such as high insulin levels, can also play a role in female adult acne. The harmful effects of high insulin levels include over-stimulation of the ovaries, which can lead to ovarian cyst formation (e.g. polycystic ovaries), menstrual cycles of variable duration, infertility and higher levels of hormones with testosterone-like effects.

Now, I’m not saying this gives you open reign to a full packet of Tim Tams. It is important to think of the influence your hormones are having on your skin if you want to nip those pimples in the chocolate bud. A full hormonal assessment will help you establish where your areas of imbalance lie and what your best treatment options are.

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Plastic, plastic everywhere

While we’re trying to do the right thing and drink the recommended 8 glasses of water a day, we need to spare a thought and decide if what we are doing is causing more harm than good. Firstly, plastic bottles contain chemicals that can leach into the water. The main culprit here is Bisphenol A (BPA), which can produce oestrogen like effects in the body. This chemical disrupts our sensitive endocrine system and can contribute to imbalances that can lead to Fibroids, Endometriosis and PMS and weight gain. BPA has also been linked to insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes (check out Environmental Health Perspectives Journal for more information).

To be sure that you are choosing a bottle that does not leach, check the recycling symbol on your bottle. If it is a #2, #4 or #5 your bottle is fine. The type of plastic bottle in which water is usually sold is usually a #1, and is only recommended for one time use.

Another important factor to take into consideration is the effect plastic water bottles have on the environment. A recent survey has revealed that nearly 2/3 of all empty water bottles end up as landfill and over half a million barrels of oil are needed to supply our annual water needs. That’s huge! Add to that the fact that it is estimated Australians will consume 300 million litres of water in 2008 and that’s one big footprint. These figures are staggering so please think twice before you buy bottled water and invest in a non-toxic, reusable water bottle.

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