What is anxiety?

Anxiety and worry go together like peas and carrots! An anxiety disorder is a medical condition defined by persistent and excessive worry. The feeling of dread and constant questioning of “what if something goes wrong”, can create so much distress preventing a person from carrying out day to day tasks. Experiences as seemingly innocuous as going to the grocery store or going for a walk, can become so uncomfortable that anxiety sufferers can  become diligent at avoiding such situations and miss out on life.  Anxiety is excessive worry about what may or may not happen in the future, whereas depression tends to be a persistently low mood relating events in the past and things that can not be controlled or changed. The two mental health conditions can occur together, or independent of each other.

Anxiety can show up in many forms and affects men, women and children every day. It can range from short-lived episodes of hesitancy to do something, to severe debilitating anxiety and panic attacks which may require hospitalisation and medication.

Any person can experience anxiety at some stage in their life. In fact experts suggest that some level of anxiety is important to keep us motivated. For example, if we didn’t worry about the bills that were due, we may not be inclined to attend work. However a person with an anxiety disorder may experience debilitating distress most of the time for no apparent reason. You could have anxiety if you can relate to feeling:

Other symptoms of anxiety disorders may include a pounding heart; difficulty breathing; upset stomach; muscle tension; sweating or choking; feeling faint or shaky, finger nail biting or picking.

Are anxiety and excitement the same?

The experience of excitement may seem quite similar to what has been described as mild anxiety. The jittery feelings, butterflies in your stomach and restless behaviour can all feel a bit like anxiety. The difference lies in the choices you make in the moment. Do you continue to wait in line for the new roller coaster ride and enjoy the anticipation and then the ride, or, do you make choices that stop you from really getting the most out of life.  For example, avoiding activities  like joining a gym, or accepting the opportunity to make new friends by going out to a party on your own can be early signs of anxiety.

However, if you are able to sit with the discomfort, separate your thoughts and feelings from who you are and still choose to participate, then this is probably quite a healthy response and just excitement.  The feeling of excitement is your body preparing you to try something new.  If, on the other hand, the feelings become intense and the thoughts progress into a viscous cycle of negativity which drives you to opt out of life, then it’s important to seek help from a qualified health professional such as your doctor, counsellor, psychologist.Anxiety

Are anxiety and depression related?

Depression is a mental health condition which affects how a person feels, thinks or acts. Depression, like anxiety, can vary from mild to severe. A person may feel sad or have low mood at times, but not have a mental health disorder. When mood is consistently low, and a person loses interest in activities they once enjoyed, loses their appetite, has an altered sleep pattern or feels constantly fatigued, these can be signs of a more serious condition. In severe cases, depression can cause a person to feel worthless, guilty and have thoughts of ending their life. If you or someone you know feels this way, or speaks of ending their life it is important to seek help sooner rather than later. In Australia, calling Lifeline on 13 11 44 is a great way to start.

As anxiety can cause constant worrying thoughts, feelings of dread, and concerns about the future, this often can lead to mental fatigue and depression. Living with anxiety can be exhausting and the risk of developing depression in addition to anxiety is high. People who are depressed can often feel anxious and worried and one can trigger the other.

What causes anxiety?

Many things can cause anxiety. One factor is a genetic link and family disposition to anxiety.  Genes associated with mood disorders are involved in making enzymes in the body which can alter the levels of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) and hormones in the body. If these genes are switched on or triggered by certain events such as extreme stress, toxic exposure, major life events, food intolerances, or inflammation, they can begin to affect the balance of mood related chemicals in the body. One of the most well known of these chemicals is serotonin.

Serotonin is believed to influence mood, social behaviour, sense of well being, sleep, memory, sexual desire and function.  If serotonin levels drop, a person may experience anxiety or depression. It is estimated that 90-95% of serotonin is made in the gut, and influenced by the types of bacteria and micro-organisms present in the digestive tract. In fact, altered levels of serotonin have been linked to irritable bowel syndrome, heart disease and osteoporosis. Serotonin can also be found in blood platelets and throughout the central nervous system. In a nutshell, serotonin is a natural mood stabiliser. Studies on people with depression show that they have lower levels of serotonin compared to people not experiencing depression, and that this also occurs in people with anxiety and insomnia.

Gut feeling is the key…

You may have experienced anxiety as a “gut feeling”, a general uneasiness about a certain situation.  The interesting thing about gut feeling is that science has now started to qualify this sensation and describe it in relation to the gut-brain connection. With the understanding that a most of the serotonin in the body is made in the digestive tract, changes can be made to diet and lifestyle which will directly influence anxiety levels. The good news is that even if you have a genetic predisposition to anxiety, a lot can be done to alter how these genes are expressed and which hormones and neurotransmitters are influenced.

Treating anxiety and depression with medication alone would be missing the point. To truly reach the underlying causes of mental health disorders, it is important to optimise diet, lifestyle, environmental and spiritual health at the same time. You must become a detective, trust your intuition, explore all the different areas of your life, and seek help to correct the underlying imbalances that are causing you to feel anxious or depressed. Taking control of your future choices means you can shift the mental energy from worrying what might happen, to creating positive outcomes and visioning a healthier happier future. 

How to reduce anxiety naturally.

  • Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages as caffeine is a known trigger for anxiety. Caffeine has a stimulating action on both the gut and nervous system. If you have anxiety you need a calming action like chamomile or passionflower tea for example. 
  • Aim to achieve a minimum of 7 and a maximum of 9 hours of sleep per night. This is the magic range for optimal health and well-being.
  • Turn off wi-fi, mobile phones, and electronic screens, including the TV for at least one hour before going to bed.  Limit your screen time during the day where possible.
  • Address any food intolerance or digestive disturbances. It is critical to have good digestive health to absorb the vitamins, minerals and nutrients that are involved in the manufacture of serotonin and other critical compounds in the body. It is also crucial to ensure there is a healthy diversity of micro-organisms that can live and populate the digestive tract and drive the production of serotonin.
  • Eat a rainbow every day. That is, include a variety of living, whole, unprocessed foods in your diet to make sure you are getting the full spectrum of vitamins, minerals and nutrients that are required to keep your nervous system healthy. To help work out what foods are right for you talk to your naturopath, nutritionist or dietician, who are trained to modify diets for individual needs.
  • Enjoy quality time with friends and family without devices on and the TV going.
  • Walk barefoot on the grass – earth yourselfbarefoot, earthing, anxiety
  • Treat yourself to fresh air and sunlight every day. Vitamin D is deficiency is know to contribute to anxiety and depression. Skin exposure to the sun is a great source of Vitamin D. Enjoy 10-15 minutes of sun exposure to the largest and whitest areas of your skin during the least UV intense times of day. eg. early morning or late afternoon.
  • Avoid feeding the mind with traumatic or negative inputs such as watching the news, viewing crime or destructive and violent fantasy shows on TV or listening to death metal music.
  • Avoid spending time with toxic people. The type that have something negative to respond to everything you say, or drag you down.
  • Choose to surround yourself with people who are positive, uplifting and supportive of you.
  • Practice mindfulness, you can see a practitioner trained in mindfulness training for support, or get started with some home practice here. 
  • There are an abundance of herbal and natural medicines with evidence for being helpful in treating mild to moderate anxiety and depression. See a qualified naturopath
  • Exercise daily, even if it’s just a short walk during your lunch break.
  • Practise deep abdominal breathing in and out through the nose, whenever you can.

Sometimes healing the mind will heal the gut and vice versa.  Eat nutrient dense foods, whole foods as nature intended, and manage your stress, and you will be surprised at just how far those two little things can take you. To help you put all the pieces together, and get the best treatment plan for your needs, get in touch.

A “normal period” is something that many women have become confused about.  A healthy woman’s cycle should occur at regular 28-35 day intervals and should come and go predictably with little or no discomfort or distress. It seems that period pain and PMS have come to be considered “normal” simply because these symptoms are so common. However, these symptoms are signs that the body is not in balance. Pain, PMS, irregular periods, painful sex and heavy bleeding are all good reasons to ask the question, “What is out of balance in my body”? If the symptoms are severe, investigation with your health practitioner is recommended sooner rather than later, especially if you’d like to have children someday. 

What I tell my patients is that the period is their monthly report card.  How a woman feels in the lead up to their period and during the period can be a good indicator of what is going on in the body. The nature of the period bleed itself can give clues about potential nutrient imbalances, inflammation, hormone imbalances, detoxification pathways and stress on the body. Many of the symptoms of period pain and hormone related reproductive dysfunctions such as endometriosis and poly cystic ovaries (PCO) are thought to be related to an imbalance between the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone and can also indicate problems with the thyroid gland, pancreas, adrenals and ovaries.

Oestrogen and progesterone have a delicate and specific way of cycling throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle and certain symptoms can give us clues about what is occurring as the two hormones need to be in correct balance to allow your body to do what it has to do.  For example, progesterone is associated with being the cool, calm and relaxed hormone.  So, if you notice you get particularly cranky before a period, it could be a sign that your progesterone is low in relation to your oestrogen levels. A comment from one lady with progesterone deficiency was, “when my period starts I tell my husband to duck and hide for the next two days.”  Neurotransmitters – the brain chemicals that drive how we think feel and behave, are also influenced by hormones. Mood swings, low libido, fatigue, depression and anxiety can be strongly influenced by the interplay between hormones and neurotransmitters, leading to the tell-tale signs of PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) or in its extreme, PMDD (pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder).

The many roles of progesterone in the body:

  • maintaining a healthy uterus lining.
  • moderating breast tissue growth
  • metabolism and weight management
  • maintaining fluid balance in the body
  • stimulating the growth of new bone tissue
  • enhancing how thyroid hormones work
  • calming anxiety and relieving depression
  • assisting healthy sleep patterns
  • preventing some forms of migraine
  • libido

Oestrogen is also critical in the body, but too much or too little can create havoc. There are 3 main types of oestrogen made in the body; estrone E1, estradiol E2 and estriol E3. Estradiol E2 produced by the ovaries, is the dominant oestrogen in women in their reproductive years, whereas the weaker Estrone E1 is dominant during menopause and produced mainly from the adrenal glands.  We’ll discuss menopause in another article, as it is often associated with symptoms of low estrogen.  However, in the menstruating woman or women who have had a hysterectomy but have intact functioning ovaries, the symptoms of excess relative oestrogen are more common and may include:

  • Heavy or painful periods
  • Swelling and tenderness of the breasts
  • Lumpy or cystic breasts
  • Mid section weight gain
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Fluid retention

The good news is that there are things that can be done to reduce the relative oestrogen excess; progesterone deficiency; inflammation and the annoying symptoms associated with a woman’s monthly cycle. Diet and lifestyle changes are long-term influences that can be beneficial in reducing symptoms, or preventing recurrence after surgical procedures. Depending on a the severity of a woman’s symptoms or condition there are many medicinal herbs which can assist with reducing pain, improving mood, regulating blood loss and improving fertility outcomes.  Most women are now familiar with Chaste tree for its benefits in PMS. Herbs such as shephard’s purse and lady’s mantle can be useful for heavy periods, and others such as damiana or shatavari may assist with libido.

An integrative approach is the best way to find out what you require as a unique woman with specific needs.  Working collaboratively with your GP, OBGYN and Naturopath may help you not only relieve the symptoms, but also deal with the underlying causes to reach a more long-term and optimal management strategy with the least side effects.  If your monthly report card is telling you something isn’t right, start asking questions and discover ways to make your periods more graceful, less painful and easy to manage. 

 

With school concerts to attend, barbeques to host and Christmas shopping to do, this time of year can really put the proverbial last straw on the fatigued camels’ back!

The main culprits for causing us to drag ourselves around seem to be the same for most of us.  Late nights, early mornings, bored school children, rushed meals, skipped meals, poor food choices, sitting for long periods of time and putting self-care onto the back-burner until the New Year. We survive by keeping a close eye on our diaries, calendars, alarms and clocks while life rushes past at a seemingly increasing speed towards that one day of the year that seems to hold so many expectations. But, is it really good enough to just survive? Why not make the most of it?

Fortunately and unfortunately, our bodies still need the basics to function properly, nutritious food, a health digestive system, adequate water, exercise, sleep and relaxation time, whether it’s the festive season or not.  We’ve heard this all before, eat well, get a good night’s sleep, exercise, etc but sometimes it’s easier said than done. Here are a few little festive season hacks I use to keep energy high and enjoy life as much as possible with my family.

  1.       Modify your exercise routine – make it a priority, it will keep your energy up.  Instead of flogging yourself, change it to fit in with your new routine or lack thereof. Try going for a bike ride with the kids on Saturday mornings instead of trying to squeeze in a gym session before the rest of the world wakes up, and still trying to stay awake for that dinner party.
  2.       Stick to the 80:20 rule with your eating. Eighty percent of your plate should be fresh from the land or the sea. Limit packaged processed or high sugar or unhealthy fat foods where possible. Enjoy a little indulgence at the party, but send the leftovers home with your guests so you won’t be tempted to eat any more. Or better still, cook healthy treats, so the temptations are good ones.
  3.       Take a good quality multivitamin every day. I call this nutritional insurance…after all, nobody is perfect.  Do the best you can to eat as healthy as possible, but accept a little help when times are hectic and not as routine as you’d like.  Choose a supplement that has good doses of the B complex of vitamins, zinc and vitamin c. Coenzyme Q10 is also a great energy boosting nutrient that helps lower blood pressure, protect arteries, improve heart health and muscle function.  It can give you that little extra get up and go when it’s got up and gone.
  4.       Stay hydrated – it’s one thing to drink plenty of water, but if you are sweating, or losing body fluids in any way, you are also losing electrolyte minerals which are essential for cell energy production, heart health, muscle energy, brain function and more.  Consider using a good quality, low sugar, balanced electrolyte drink such as Endura Rehydration formula or make your own electrolyte drink with 50:50 coconut water and pink grapefruit juice with a pinch of macrobiotic or celtic sea salt to help give you energy and keep your strength up.
  5.       Herbal helpers such as Siberian Ginseng and Rhodiola have been used for centuries to promote vitality, stamina and improve stress tolerance.  These two herbs can be useful during times of fatigue and diminishing work capacity and concentration.

Of course, there are many other causes of fatigue that may need further investigation, but for the most part, when it’s short term, and related to a temporary change in routine, these tips can make all the difference to how well you cope with the extra demands of the season.  

If fatigue is dragging on beyond what is normal for your lifestyle, get in touch for a health review consultation.

 

Anyone at any age can potentially have a thyroid gland which is not functioning properly, and this can occur for many reasons.

The two main risk factors for hypothyroidism are age and sex. Statistically women are 10 times more likely than men to have hypothyroidism. It is believed that the female hormone oestrogen plays a role in influencing thyroid gland function and this is why hypothyroidism tends to appear around significant hormone changes in a woman’s life cycle such as during pregnancy, and menopause.

Other risk factors include:

  • Family history of thyroid disease or any auto-immune disease
  • You already have type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune disease.
  • You have taken a medication that affects the thyroid such as anti-thyroid medication for grave’s disease or treatment for thyroid cancer.
  • You have had surgery to remove your thyroid gland for the treatment of thyroid cancer or goiter.
  • Your chest or neck area has been exposed to radiation.

Some facts about Hypothyroidism:

  • In Australia there are approximately 60,000 new cases of hypothyroidism each year.
  • In Australia the prevelance of overt (TSH above 5.0um/L and
  • reduced T4 and T3) hypothyroidism is between 1 and 2 % of the population.
  • Hypothyroidism is 10 times more common in women than men.
  • Subclinical hypothyroidism (TSH between 2-10, with and thyroid hormones within reference range) occurs in between 3% and 18% of the population.
  • 10-15% of Australians have some level of thyroid dysfunction
  • Even though there is a higher incidence of hypothyroidism in women, it is suspected that many male issues including low testosterone, weight gain, libido and erectile dysfunction can be attributed to poor thyroid hormone conversion in the peripheral tissues.

The key point to remember here is that we can’t just rely on TSH as a marker of whether the thyroid gland and thyroid hormones are maintaining balance in the body, its far more complex than TSH!

TSH tells us only about the picture of hormone management from the pituitary gland in the brain. It does not tell us what is happening in the rest of the body. The thyroid gland is part of what is known as the endocrine system  – a network of glands responsible for the production and regulation of hormones. Hormones, in a nutshell, are chemical messengers which act to direct and drive our bodily functions. The interconnectedness of this messenger system is such that any gland in the network that is out of balance, will impact the function and efficiency of other glands in the network. For example a lack of adrenal hormone production may influence the behaviour of the thyroid and the reproductive organs. An under active thyroid can upset the function of the ovaries, contributing to infertility or disrupted periods.  The adrenals, pancreas, ovaries and gonads all play a role in regulating thyroid hormone action at a cellular level, and consequently how we look and feel.

The role of the thyroid gland is to maintain balance in the body and in order to do this it relies on proper oxygenation of our blood, organs and tissues; adequate energy production in our cells, and antioxidant protection from compounds which damage our DNA. The peripheral tissues and the central nervous system are in control of how much thyroid hormone each cell of the body see’s or has access to, whereas the thyroid gland is predominantly the T4 factory. This is why circulating thyroid hormones do not provide a complete representation of health and often do not match the patients’ symptom picture.

When the body is placed under stress, more resources are required to keep the body functioning until the stress has passed. For example, if, hypothetically, you were to have a lion chasing you, your adrenal glands would pump out adrenaline and nor-epinephrine, to get the heart to pump faster to supply more oxygen to the muscles, because they are working harder and faster to get you out of danger. This means you would be breathing heavier, and sweating more. Your body has to prioritise what will be important. It is going to be burning up quick fuel, glucose, in the blood stream and muscles and as it does this it will be needing more nutrients including b group vitamins, and amino acids from proteins to help run the furnace.   This situation is a survival switch for the body, and is designed only for short term activity. The trouble with modern life is that stress is no longer necessarily in the form of running from a lion, but also in running late and sitting in traffic, working longer hours and not sleeping well, eating poorly, toxins etc. So rather than being short lived, stress can be persistent throughout the day, creating a huge burden on the body, disrupting not only nutrient levels but also hormonal regulation and the capacity of the glands to produce adequate hormones. Relating to the thyroid hormones, a down regulation of metabolism occurs in order to conserve critical resources. This is useful in short lived crisis, but in modern life chronic activation of the stress response can be associated with reduced thyroid hormone activity resulting in weight gain, fatigue, infertility and low mood. Due to the cyclical and complex nature of women’s hormones, females are particularly more susceptible to hormonal disruption by stress. 

 

 

 

 

 

.1. New insights into thyroid hormone action.Mendoza A1Hollenberg AN2.Pharmacol Ther. 2017 May;173:135-145. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2017.02.012. Epub 2017 Feb 4.

 

 

Cholesterol may not be the lethal enemy you have been led to believe. In fact, cholesterol is required to keep you healthy. It is found in the bloodstream and in every cell of your body, so not having enough cholesterol can be as problematic as having too much! Cholesterol is used to produce hormones, vitamin D and bile acids. Cholesterol is produced by the liver based on the body’s needs, but can also be obtained from foods.

The two most familiar forms of cholesterol you’ve probably heard about are LDL – the “bad” and HDL – the “good” cholesterol. LDL cholesterol has been promoted as the substance which can clog your arteries and increase your chance of having a heart attack or stroke. HDL may help lower your risk of developing heart disease. There has been a lot of fear mongering around cholesterol, but recent research suggests that lowering cholesterol may not have the impact on reducing heart disease risk as was once thought. Authors of the article “Does ‘bad cholesterol’ deserve it’s bad name“, suggest that to say LDL cholesterol causes heart disease is very misleading. In this article Dr. Uffe Ravnskov, Ph.D. — a former medical practitioner and independent researcher is quoted saying that people with low levels of LDL have just as much plaque in their arteries as those with high LDL levels. The consensus is that the research has isolated cholesterol as the bad guy for the purposes of helping people make “informed” choices about taking statin medications, and has failed to take into account other cardiovascular risk factors such as inflammation, stress, infections and smoking.

The key issues identified in The Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology 2015 “How statistical deception created the appearance that statins are safe and effective in primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease” are:

  • the data stating the benefits of statins compared to relative risk were grossly misleading.
  • primary prevention trials aimed at lowering cholesterol have NOT been successful in reducing the risk of death from heart disease.
  • the serious side effects of statin drug use have been severely underestimated.
  • the side effects of taking statin medication are extensive including but not limited to, memory and brain function issues, diabetes, cancer, cataracts and musculo-skeletal problems.
  • the dietary recommendations including low fat diets, low fat dairy, the avoidance of eggs and the use of margarine over butter may be doing more harm than good.

So why does cholesterol go up ?

There are various diseases and drugs that can cause cholesterol to go up. It is important therefore, before even considering a statin drug to ask “what is the cause of my high cholesterol?” Health conditions known to raise cholesterol levels, particularly LDL levels, include:

  • pre-diabetes and diabetes
  • hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid)
  • cushing’s disease (a disorder where your body produces too much cortisol)
  • kidney failure or kidney disorders
  • alcoholism
  • hormonal and metabolic disorders
  • anorexia nervosa

Some medications can also raise cholesterol levels. These may include HRT , the oral contraceptive pill, Beta blockers (most commonly used for lowering blood pressure), steroids and diuretics.

The primary focus in regards to cholesterol and reducing our risk of heart disease is to keep active exercising for at least 30 minutes 5 days per week and moving the body out of a sedentary position every hour. Reducing inflammation, infections, and avoiding cigarette smoke, are also key.  In regards to diet avoid refined and processed foods, sugar, white flour, low fat dairy products, and foods containing hydrogenated fats and trans fats such as margarines, fried foods, processed biscuits cakes and crackers.

Enjoy in moderation saturated fats (preferably from grass fed or organic animal sources) or from coconut, full fat un-homogenised dairy products, eggs, lean grass fed, ethically raised meat, chicken and fish. Include plenty of green leafy vegetables, fibre in the diet from fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains.

High cholesterol is not something to fear, but rather a cue to raise your awareness about what is happening in your body, signalling you to make some changes to diet and lifestyle, and ask more questions about the state of your health and wellbeing.

 

This quote from the Dalai Lama always sends my head spinning.  It is so true, and I constantly need to remind myself of the choices I am making and why.  As a working mum and wife I have often found myself on the merry-go-round of keeping up with a fast paced life, wondering what this is all for.  The universe gave me a nudge in a new direction, and things have never been the same since.

In 2015/2016 I was lucky enough to experience over a year of adventure on the road travelling Australia with my family in a caravan.  Although we worked at times to fund the trip, it was an amazing lifestyle that allowed us the freedom to really connect as a family, to be awed and inspired by mother nature, to appreciate the diversity of life and to feel truly alive!  Having now “settled” back into a work/school routine and suburban living, we do our best to bring a little of that adventure into every week. We choose to enjoy the present, value life and do our best to connect with others and the environment in a way that “gives life”.

It is no longer ok to live a “ground-hog-day” type life, to work to survive and go through the motions without acknowledging what the heart wants. Even though we are in a fairly typical family routine for the most part right now, we now view things differently – we prioritise our health and sense of well-being, connect as a family daily, plan our next adventures together, make small changes and choices that will help protect the environment for future generations, and value experiences not things!

Wanderlust is our new first world problem!