Book Review – ‘Nutrition Brought to Life’ by Kirsten Chick

Book Review – ‘Nutrition Brought to Life’ by Kirsten Chick

Nutrition Brought to Life is the first book from holistic nutritional therapist Kirsten Chick – and it’s fantastic!

Written in Kirsten’s trademark accessible style, the book provides a firm grounding in natural nutrition, and how we can truly nourish ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Part 1 begins with the digestive system – the foundation of all health and wellbeing.  Kirsten then skillfully guides us through energy production, the highs and lows of sugar, managing our stress response, adrenal support, the gut microbiome, inflammation, immunity, “liver whispering” (brilliant!), hormone balancing, and creating our own personal action plan for health. Part 2 provides 50 different recipes; from soups and main meals, to nourishing smoothies, salads, and warming drinks, all designed to support optimum health and vitality.

 

Contents list for Nutrition Brought to Life

Each chapter includes a few reflective questions to help readers think about what they’ve just learnt, and how they can start making manageable changes for better health.

This isn’t just a book to flick through and put down; it’s a book that can help you transform how you nourish yourself, on every level, and get back in touch with what your body is telling you.

Kirsten has been working as a nutritional therapist since 2003, and combines private nutrition practice with teaching, writing, public speaking, and whizzing up recipes in her kitchen.  Her areas of expertise include fertility, pregnancy, cancer care, and general nutrition. She’s kindly agreed to let me include an excerpt of the book here so you can get a taster of what to expect…

 

Chapter 4

Sugar – the highs and lowdown

When life is sweet I don’t seem to crave so much sugar. I may enjoy sweet foods from time to time, but I don’t actively seek it out. When my mood or zest for life drop, when I feel let down, or when I feel like the ground has fallen away beneath me, my thoughts turn to sugar. It’s a pattern I learnt when I was very small, and reinforced with abandon as I grew up. It’s one I now smile at like an old friend I have drifted away from. We sometimes hang out for a brief while, but I spend more time with my other friends these days. They don’t challenge my insulin pathways so much.

Insulin and glucagon – balancing blood sugar

When you eat, your pancreas releases hormones that directly affect your energy pathways and fat levels. Remember that your pancreas sits near your stomach, and most of it is busy producing digestive enzymes to squirt into your small intestine.  A small section of it, however, has a specialist role in balancing blood sugar.

About 2-3% of your pancreas, an exotic resort called the Islets of Langerhans, releases blood sugar regulating hormones called insulin and glucagon, plus a moderating hormone called somatostatin.  These hormones then course through your bloodstream, with instructions for what to do with glucose, the sugar released from your latest meal or snack.

When you have high levels of glucose in your blood:

– insulin can trigger some of it to be sent into your cells to make ATP ‘energy batteries’

– any excess with be converted to a substance called glycogen in your liver, where you can keep a store cupboard of about a day’s supply

– if there’s still more glucose left over, insulin will turn it into fats, which are sent to your fat cells (aka adipose cells) for more long-term storage – this is how sugar can make you fat. 

Nutrition Brought to Life podcast

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To carry on reading Nutrition Brought to Life order your copy today from one of the stockists listed on Kirsten’s website, or Amazon.  And listen along to the Nutrition Brought to Life podcast too!

You can find our more about Kirsten’s work at Connect with Nutrition and follow her on Twitter – @kirstenchick1

Oat & Apricot Fingers

Oat & Apricot Fingers

Oat & Apricot Fingers

These oaty bars are unbelievably easy to make and perfect for pack-ups or snacks.

The oats provide fibre and B-vitamins, while the apricots are a valuable source of plant-based iron and beta-carotene.  Nuts and seeds are packed with vitamin E, magnesium, zinc, and fibre; and if you opt for good quality dark chocolate you’ll be getting a bit more magnesium and some antioxidant polyphenols!

 

Oat and apricot fingers drizzled with chocolate

You will need:

8-10 dried apricots (opt for unsulphured apricots if you have sulphite sensitivities)

50g oats / gluten-free oats

30g of chopped mixed nuts and seeds

50ml water

30g dark or white chocolate

A greased and lined baking sheet

Oven set to 180*c

Here’s how to make them…

Soak the apricots in water for at least 3hrs until soft.  Drain, and puree them in a blender.

Put the oats in a saucepan with the apricot puree, 50ml water, and the chopped mixed nuts and seeds, mix them well and gently heat for a few minutes until the mixture is soft and mushy.

Grease and line a baking sheet.  Press the mixture evenly onto the sheet – it shouldn’t be too thick, about 1-1.5cms is about right.

Bake in the oven at 180*c for around 15mins, or until firmly set.

Remove from the oven and carve into fingers before it cools. One cooled, remove from the tray and set onto a cooling rack.

Melt the chocolate and drizzle it over the oat & apricot fingers.  Allow the chocolate to set (pop the fingers in the fridge to speed this bit up), then store them in an airtight tin.

Enjoy!

For more recipe ideas and friendly nutrition chat follow me on Twitter and Facebook or hop over to the Facebook Group at www.facebook.com/groups/nutritioninyork

‘Natural Nutrition for Perimenopause’ is available now!

‘Natural Nutrition for Perimenopause’ is available now!

*Trumpet fanfare* Yes, I’m pleased (and ridiculously excited) to say that ‘Natural Nutrition for Perimenopause: What to eat to feel good and stay sane’ is available to buy now!

Packed with practical nutrition and lifestyle tips, it’s an easy to use guidebook full of suggestions for navigating the ups and downs of perimenopause and menopause

Topics covered include:
 – What is perimenopause?
 – Signs and symptoms
 – How perimenopause affects your brain, heart, and bones
 – Blood sugar balance for energy, weight balance, and managing stress
 – Key nutrients to include and where to find them
 – Phytoestrogens: what are they and where to find them
 – Supplements
 – Movement & exercise
 – Sleep tips
 – Emotional wellbeing
Plus, there’s a whole section on references and resources for further help. It’s a cracking read (I know, I’m biased!).

It’s ideal for women in their mid-late 30s/early 40s and heading into perimenopause; for those in the throes of it, or those coming out the other side.  And, it’s a helpful book for partners and loved ones to read to help them understand what perimenopause and menopause is like.

Here’s a sneek peek at part of the first chapter…

How are you doing?

How are you really doing?

Did you sleep well or wake every hour with hot flushes?

Are you getting anxious and forgetful?

Do your jeans feel tighter and tighter?

You are not alone. This is what happens as we head towards menopause – as we become ‘menopausers’ (new word, hope you like it).

This messy bit (the bit before the actual menopause which is simply the point in time when we haven’t had a period for a year) is known as perimenopause and can feel like an endurance trial of confusing and random symptoms. From hot flushes, palpitations and anxiety, to weight gain and levels of forgetfulness that cause some menopausers to fear they’re developing dementia: perimenopause doesn’t mess around.

One minute we’re being rational humans, making sensible decisions and knowing what’s what. Next minute we’re bathed in sweat, gripped with anxiety, and biting back tears – usually at the most inappropriate moment.

As hormonal rollercoasters go, perimenopause is as transformational as puberty, only this time around we’ve got a heck of a lot more to juggle compared to those heady teenage years of worrying about what to wear on Friday night and whether we’ll get served in the pub.

This guidebook is a response to the experiences of hundreds of amazing perimenopausal and menopausal clients with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working in my nutrition & lifestyle medicine clinic. Many of these clients were already struggling with long-term health conditions (fatigue, fibromyalgia, underactive thyroid, autoimmunity, digestive problems – sometimes all these combined) before finding themselves in the grip of perimenopause and desperate for help.

Their doctors were suggesting HRT (hormone replacement therapy) and/or an attitude of “it’s your age, just get on with it”. Quite how they were meant ot get on with ‘it’ while facing daily, life-altering symptoms is beyond anyones guess, but there we go. I must add that there are many medical professionals recommending more than just replacement hormones for perimenopause support: counselling for example, or CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) – and an increasing number recognise the value of nutritional changes and herbal medicine too.

The wonderful thing about nutrition and lifestyle medicine is that it’s open to all regardless of whether you’re taking HRT or not. We all need to eat, drink, breathe, move, and sleep every day, which means we have endless opportunities to positively influence our hormones via food and lifestyle choices.
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To carry on reading order the book from Amazon or direct from York Publishing Services online store – the e-book version is coming soon.

Building Resilience

Building Resilience

Resilience is our ability to bounce back and keep going even during the most challenging times.  Building resilience doesn’t mean never stopping to rest or take time out; quite the opposite. It means being aware of your capacity to cope, and taking steps to support this.

We can build our resilience by establishing and nuturing some simple nutrition and lifestyle habits.

  

Positive habits include:

Making good food choices; limiting refined sugary foods, including good quality protein and healthy fats, getting those 5 colourful veggies + 2 fruits per day, reducing caffeine and drinking plenty of water…you know the drill!

Use this plate diagram to create balanced meals.

Not every meal will fit the template, but as a general rule aim to cover half your plate with colourful veggies and leafy greens, and divide the other half equally between wholegrains/root veg, and good quality sources of protein.

   – Being protective about rest & relaxation time and scheduling in downtime every day.  It’s so easy to end up staring at the TV or scrolling Facebook at the end of a busy day. But this isn’t relaxation time; your brain is busy processing all the information coming at it through the TV or internet.  To give your mind a break try:
– relaxing in a warm Epsom salt bath
– listening to your favourite tunes
– following a guided meditation
– or immersing yourself in a good book instead. 

   – Getting outdoors in the fresh air and natural daylight every day. This may be for a gentle walk / jog / run / outdoor Yoga / Qi Gong – whatever type of movement you enjoy. When possible, get outdoors for at least 30mins before midday. Enjoying natural daylight in the morning helps the brain to register the change in light at dusk and start winding down for sleep.

   – Giving yourself the opportunity for 7-9hrs of sleep each night. If you’re struggling to get enough shut-eye, try these nutrition tips for supporting restorative sleep.

Nutrition-wise, two key nutrients that support our resilience are vitamin B5 and vitamin C. These two vitamins are used in energy production and manufacture of stress hormones in the adrenal glands. When we’re under a lot of ongoing stress we need to ensure plentiful supplies of these nutrients to support the adrenals.

If you’re feeling the strain of ongoing stress think about which of these tips you can start to implement in your daily routine. Pick one that resonates with you the most, then after a few days of practising it add in another. And do let me know how you get on.

Gut, brain, hormones & immunity – it’s all connected!

Gut, brain, hormones & immunity – it’s all connected!

One of the most important things I’ve learned from both naturopathic nutrition and Yoga is that every part of the body is connected. We are one big moving part. Nothing in the body exists in isolation. Gut, brain, heart, hormones, immunity, muscles, bones, lungs, liver, skin; every organ and system is communicating with one another.

Whether its via hormonal messages, nerve fibres, fascia, or microbial metabolites: communication is constant.

I recently had the pleasure of talking about these incredible interconnections for a podcast (more details to follow on this). The podcast focuses on the links between the gut, brain, hormone balance, and the immune system. I like to make notes before I do any kind of talk, so I drew a mind-map of the links between these areas. It ended up large and colourful…

mind-map of links between gut, brain, immunity and hormones

And this is just the basic links, there are plenty more that wouldn’t fit on the page!

The Gut is the Foundation

The gut is always the first place to start when looking at a health issue. Whether its mental health, low immunity, hormone imbalance, or any kind of inflammation – look at the gut first. As the mind-map shows, this is where nutrient absorption takes place, and the elimination of waste (including old hormones). You can eat all the right foods and take top quality supplements, but if you’re not absorbing them well enough, or clearing out your waste each day, improvement will be very slow.

Our gut microbes (the microbiome) play a huge role in regulating our immune response, managing inflammation, and influencing mood. They communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve, the ‘super highway’ communication channel between gut and brain. Anything that upsets the microbiome – stress, infection, antibiotics – can affect mood and immunity.

Hormones

Hormones are the chemical messengers zooming instructions around the body. When it comes to stress, cortisol is the main player. Ongoing high levels of cortisol can compromise our digestion making us more prone to gut problems like bloating, indigestion, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. It also affects immunity, increasing the risk of infections, and hampering recovery. If we don’t learn how to manage ongoing stress, our mental resilience starts to wear thin too. Eventually this can lead to anxiety, depression, and burn-out.

Fluctuating oestrogen levels during the pre-menstrual phase (PMS) and perimenopause can affect gut health and mental wellbeing. High levels of oestrogen can be a triggering factor for migraines and PMS, while low levels lead to different symptoms depending on which part of the brain is affected. For example hot flushes, one of the characteristic symptoms of perimenopause, are triggered when there isn’t enough oestrogen reaching the hypothalamus, our central temperature regulator. Too little oestrogen in the amygdala can lead to anxiety, which in turn increases our sense of feeling threatened and stressed and upregulates cortisol production.

Balancing the connections

If you can make out my scrawls on the diagram, you’ll notice there’s a lot of crossover between the nutrients that support each area – gut, mental health, hormones, and immunity. Including these nutrients on a daily basis supplies your body with the tools it needs to:
– Build hormones
– Manage inflammation
– Maintain immune balance
– Support neurotransmitters
– Detoxify hormones
– Nuture the gut microbiome

Food connects us with ourselves, and enables our internal communications to run smoothly.

If you’re dealing with symptoms in any of the areas mentioned on the diagram, look at your food choices and see where you can make some simple swaps to include more of these key nutrients. This table lists some of the top sources so you can mix and match and enjoy the variety…

Table of food sources of key nutrients for gut, brain, hormone and immune health

Supporting Vagal tone

Alongside all these good foods, think about ways to incorporate more relaxation and mindfulness into your daily life. When we’re busy and stressed we are spending the majority of our time in the fight-flight-freeze response; the sympathetic nervous system. For our health, we need to balance this by switching to the parasympathetic response: rest-digest-heal. The vagus nerve plays a big role here, and anything that activates it will help. Taking a few slow deep breaths is the quickest and easiest way to do this because the brain thinks “ah, we can’t be in immediate danger, we’re breathing too slowly!” Singing is another good technique (not always practical in the middle of a work meeting though) and doing meditative movements such as yoga and Qi Gong.

Look at ways to fit pockets of relaxation time into your day. A short walk in the park at lunchtime, ten minutes of mindful meditation after work, taking 5 slow deep breaths before each meal – that sort of thing. The benefits of these little pockets soon builds up and you’ll feel calmer and more resilient.


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Perimenopause – Your Questions Answered

Perimenopause – Your Questions Answered

Perimenopause – Your Questions Answered

Perimenopause is a different experience for each of us, yet there are several common themes and questions. Fortunately, nutrition and lifestyle medicine can be a big help at this time of transition. From hot flushes to anxiety and low mood, making changes to what we eat and how we live can make a powerful difference during perimenopause.

Read on to find the answers to some common questions. To delve even deeper you can now purchase your very own copy of ‘Natural Nutrition for Perimenopause – What to eat to feel good and stay sane‘ – paperback and Ebook available!

Natural Nutrition for Perimenopause book available now


Heavy Periods

Q. My periods are getting heavier and I’m starting to experience a lot more irritability and anxiety. I’ve just turned 41 – could this be perimenopause?

A. Yes. Some of the first signs of perimenopause are changes to moods, period frequency, and/or period flow. These can start happening in your mid to late 30s. However, many women don’t notice this if they’re taking the Pill or using hormonal implants.
Fluctuating oestrogen levels affect our brain just as much as the ovaries and womb lining. There are oestrogen receptors throughout the brain, and each area responds differently to changes in oestrogen levels. For example, if the amygdala doesn’t receive enough oestrogen we can feel more anxious and fearful. If the hypothalamus (our central temperature regulator) is affected we can experience hot flushes.

Try keeping track of your symptoms to see if they fit into any kind of monthly pattern. To help manage the anxiety. follow the tips below in the Q&A for Anxiety & Low Mood.

Heavy periods can increase your iron loss, so be mindful of regularly including iron-rich foods throughout your cycle:

– Haem iron (animal source) is the most bioavailable form for us to absorb and use, and is found in red meat, poultry, fish, and eggs.
– Non-haem iron is found in animal foods too, and also in vegetables – especially dark green leafy veg; pulses, dried fruits, nuts, wholegrains, and Blackstrap molasses. Combine vitamin C rich foods with non-haem iron sources to aid absorption.

Q. My periods are incredibly painful and heavy and I don’t want to take the Pill or have a coil fitted. Do I have to put up with this until after menopause?

A. Symptoms like this can be a sign of fibroids or endometriosis. Both conditions are influenced by oestrogen and hormone fluctuations. During the early stages of perimenopause we can be in a temporary state of oestrogen dominance. Because we stop ovulating every month, there’s very little progesterone produced to counter-balance oestrogen. Unfortunately it can take months, even years, for fibroids or endometriosis to be diagnosed as many doctors fail to recognise how serious the symptoms are. Ask for a referral to a gynaecologist who will be able to offer the right support and testing. It will also be helpful to get your iron levels checked to make sure the heavy periods aren’t depleting your iron stores.


Hot flushes

Q. Hot flushes are keeping me awake every night. I’m feeling exhausted all day, and having difficulty concentrating at work. What can I do?

A. Hot flushes are one of the most distressing perimenopausal symptoms. I can’t promise these tips will get rid of them completely but they can certainly reduce the severity and frequency:

– Minimise caffeine as much as possible. Avoid it altogether if you can! This means tea, coffee, energy drinks, and chocolate. And decaff versions too – sensitive people can react to the trace amounts of caffeine left in decaffeinated drinks.

– Keep your blood sugar levels balanced by eating within 2 hours of waking, replacing refined carbohydrates (white bread, white pasta, cakes, sweets, biscuits etc) with smaller portions of wholegrain versions, and only snacking if there’s a gap of more than 5hrs between meals.

– Try drinking sage tea or taking sage tablets or tincture. The A.Vogel ‘Menosan’ tablets and tincture are a licensed herbal remedy for managing hot flushes and sweats and can help with temperature regulation.

– Relax! Stress is a big trigger for hot flushes. We can’t always make stress go away but we can change how we respond to it. We can do this by building daily downtime into our schedules. This might mean going for a mindful walk, listening to music, following a guided meditation, doing crafts or creative writing, or simply soaking in a bath with essential oils. Mindful relaxation (as opposed to flopping in front of Netflix) is a great way to build our resilience to stress.


Anxiety & low mood

Q. Since starting perimenopause my moods have been really low. I feel anxious and depressed a lot of the time. I’m also really tired. Is this normal?

A. Mood swings and anxiety can be symptoms of perimenopause, but they can also be linked to other conditions. Have you had your thyroid checked? Depression and fatigue can be signs of an underactive thyroid. Many women start to experience thyroid issues around the time of menopause so it’s worth getting your thyroid hormome levels checked with your GP. Ask them to check your levels of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), T4 and T3 (thyroid hormones) and thyroid antibodies. The thyroid antibodies are important because an underactive thyroid may be due to auto-immunity. If your results come back positive for underactive thyroid see a Registered Nutritional Therapist for a personalised plan to support thyroid function.

If your thyroid is OK, look at ways to manage the anxiety and depression and low energy:

– Follow the blood sugar balancing tips (see previous Q&A) as poor blood sugar balance can worsen mood swings.

– Include at least 3 servings each day of foods rich in magnesium and B-vitamins such as avocado, sweet potato, nuts, seeds, dark green leafy vegetables, poultry, and eggs. These nutrients are vital for mood balance and energy levels.

– Make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Our brains need 7-9hrs each night, with at least 1 hr of that before midnight. Aim to be in bed by 10.30pm-11pm to give yourself the opportunity for a good rest.

– Include mindful relaxation time each day. Yoga, journalling, mediation, spending time outdoors in natural surroundings, and crafts are all known to be beneficial for managing depression and anxiety.

– Swap regular tea and coffee for herbal teas that soothe and support the nervous system. Lemon balm, chamomile, oat straw, valerian, and lavendar are good options.


Phytoestrogens

Q. I’ve been told to eat phytoestrogens. What are they and where can I find them?

A. Phytoestrogens (phyto = plant) are naturally occurring substances found in fruits, vegetables, and grains. They have a similar effect to human oestrogen, but are hundreds and hundreds of times weaker. They’re not a hormone replacement therapy by any means.  Instead, they have a modulating effect on our fluctuating oestrogen levels and may help reduce hot flushes and offer protection to our bones.

There are 3 types of phytoestrogens. The top food sources include:

  • Isoflavones found mainly in soybeans (edamame) and fermented soy products like tofu and miso. You can also find them in chickpeas, aduki beans, kidney beans, and red clover. Red clover seeds can be sprouted – try sprouting them alongside mung beans and alfalfa seeds.   
  • Lignans flax seed is by far the richest source, followed by sesame seeds, broccoli, and cashew nuts.
  • Coumestans found in mung bean sprouts and alfalfa sprouts. 

Q. Is soy safe to eat? I’ve read so many conflicting things about it!

A. Soy foods certainly are a controversial subject! Unfortunately a lot of the research done on soy uses raw soy extract – not the natural wholefoods recommended for perimenopausal women. The soy foods suggested for perimenopause are the fermented soy products like tofu and miso, and whole cooked soy beans. These foods are part of the traditional diet in Far Eastern countries where women have far fewer menopausal issues. Having said that, no food is entirely suitable for everyone, and some people find soy difficult to digest. If you have any concerns about soy, give yourself peace of mind and enjoy other phytoestrogen foods instead.

I hope you’ve found this Q&A helpful.
Remember, for even more information, recommendations, and practical guidance, get your mitts on a copy of ‘Natural Nutrition for Perimenopause – What to eat to feel good and stay sane‘ now!

Keep up to date: Come and join the Facebook Group or follow my Facebook page – or join me on Twitter @nutritioninyork

Top 5 Foods for Anxiety

Top 5 Foods for Anxiety

Anxiety has been an unwanted companion of mine since childhood. From anxiety-induced stomach aches before school swimming lessons, to panic attacks while out shopping, anxiety has a big impact on my life experiences.

Over the years I’ve learned to take a two-pronged approach to anxiety. To manage it I use:

  • Speedy remedies like chewing on lemon balm leaves, drinking valerian tea, dosing up on Bach Rescue Remedy, and using Ashwagandha tincture each day whenever I’m in a particularly stressful phase.
  • Long term nutrition support. I regularly include foods that supply the vitamins and minerals my nervous system needs to manage anxiety and support mental wellbeing.

This 5-minute video covers 5 of my favourite foods for nervous system support. Each one is easy to find and easy to prep – there’s no weird ingredients or lengthy recipes here. I recommend including these on a regular basis and noticing how you feel. If you scroll on down past the video you’ll find some more ideas for foods and drinks that can help manage anxiety. All of these foods can be safely consumed alongside anxiety medications.

More Good Foods for Managing Anxiety

Fermented foods: let’s not forget the gut microbiome! Our gut flora produce important molecules that influence the nervous system and the production of mood chemicals.

One of these molecules is GABA (gamma amino-butyric acid). GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that calms the nervous system. Fermented foods contain the probiotic bacteria that produce GABA, and fibres to nourish other gut bacteria. In turn, this support a healthy environment in the gut, and continues the production of GABA.

Including a serving of fermented foods each day is a great way to top up and fertilise your microbiome. Choose from:

  • Sauerkraut: available from healthfood stores and some supermarkets (avoid the pasteurised versions as the bacteria die off during pasteurisation) or make your own
  • Kefir: milk kefir, water kefir, coconut water kefir – there’s plenty of different varieties. Again, you can make this at home with some starter granules
  • Plain live natural yoghurt
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha

Keen to try home fermenting? I can heartily recommend this book. It’s packed with tips and has easy-to-follow instructions – perfect for new fermenters!

Herbal Infusions

Quick and easy to make, a warm mug of tea is a soul-soother in itself. Although for anxious people, it does need to be caffeine free – there’s no wriggle room on that! This is because even decaffeinated versions of tea can contain enough caffeine to stimulate the stress response and aggravate anxiety.

Herbs offer some wonderful infusions for anxiety. Try these teas either as single-herb teas or in combinations. For example, chamomile and lemon balm blend well together:

  • Chamomile – soothing and anti-inflammatory
  • Lemon balm (Melissa) – shown to inhibit the breakdown of GABA, the calming neurotransmitter in the brain
  • Lavender – deeply relaxing, and the scent works on the olfactory senses too, to calm the mind
  • Valerian – this is pretty pungent and best combined with other herbs to balance the flavour!
  • Oat seed – oats are nourishing to the nervous system thanks to their high content of B-vitamins
  • Passion flower – calming, and particularly useful for menopausal anxiety

Are you an anxious person?

What tips and tricks have you learned to manage your symptoms of anxiety?

Share your thoughts over on the Facebook page.

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Corona virus – can nutrition help?

Corona virus – can nutrition help?

This winter’s flu season has taken a dramatic turn with the arrival and rapid spread of the Covid-19 corona virus.   A few weeks ago I highlighted some of the key nutrients we need for all-round immune support.  These nutrients are essential in the fight against flu.  But is there any evidence to say nutrition can help fight coronaviruses?

The short answer to this question is yes!  In a fascinating paper from the US, researchers explore the interactions between compounds in foods and the way our immune system deals with RNA viruses – including coronaviruses.

Immune nutrients

The compounds examined in this paper include:

Ferulic acid: an antioxidant found in many different plants

– Phase 2 inducers like sulforaphane.  Phase 2 is one of the detoxification pathways in the liver.  It requires plenty of glutathione, one of our most important antioxidant nutrients.  Sulforaphane can increase glutathione levels.

– The minerals zinc and selenium

– Anthocyanin compounds in Elderberry

– Phycocyanobilin in Spirulina: a type of cyanobacteria grown on freshwater lakes and sold as powder, tablets, or capsules

These compounds have multiple benefits for our immune defences.  This is seen through their modulating effects on immune cells and signalling molecules, and by providing powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant protection in the lungs and airways.

Nutrition and the elderly

A key observation of this paper is the way in which zinc and n-acetyl cysteine have been shown to support older peoples’ immune systems against ‘flu.  In a small-scale 6mth controlled trial involving 262 elderly people, those receiving 600mg of n-acetyl cysteine twice a day* experienced significantly fewer days of ‘flu and spent much less time confined to their beds, compared to those taking a placebo.

And, although the rate of infection was comparable between the two groups only 25% of the virus-infected subjects in the NAC group developed symptoms, compared to 79% of those in the placebo group.

*(This is quite a high dose, and not recommended unless advised by a nutrition practitioner)

Zinc and PPI medications

The benefits of zinc supplementation for the elderly were spotted as a by-product of another trial: the AREDS1 trial for eye health.  AREDS1 used a vitamin and mineral supplement with zinc in.  As the authors note: “…This effect might be pertinent to the significant 27% reduction in total mortality observed in elderly subjects who received high-dose zinc in the AREDS1 multicenter trial”.  It seems a supplement trial for healthy vision had an unexpected and positive effect on flu deaths!

Many older people take PPI (proton-pump inhibitor) medications like Omperazole, Lansoprazole, and Nexium, to manage acid reflux and heartburn.  These drugs suppress the production of stomach acid.  This can bring short-term relief from heartburn and reflux but it has a knock-on effect on nutrient absorption.  Using these medications for months on end can significantly impact zinc levels – and as a result, immune function.  If you or someone you know has been taking PPI meds for more than 3 months, it’s a good idea to have your zinc levels assessed either with a GP or via a nutrition practitioner.

So the big question now is where to find these amazing nutrients?

Zinc: poultry, shellfish (especially oysters – if you can stomach them!), red meat, pumpkin seeds, nuts

Selenium: Brazil nuts, shellfish, liverMixed nuts

Spirulina: use capsules or tablets, or add the powder to smoothies, pesto, and dark chocolate bark (this has to be the easiest and most enticing way of taking spirulina ever known)

Elderberry: keen foragers can make their own syrups.  The rest of us can find it in supplements such as ‘Sambucol‘ and Pukka Herb’s Elderberry Syrup

Sulforaphane: found in cruciferous veggies like kale, broccoli, and cauliflower

Ferulic acid: widespread in foods including oats, rice, pineapple, nuts, bananas, spinach, beetroot

Keep your diet as varied and interesting as possible and if you feel the need for more personalised advice, get in touch with your local Registered Nutritional Therapist.  York-people, you can find yours here!

Reference: M.F. McCarty and J.J. DiNicolantonio, 2020. Nutraceuticals have potential for boosting the type 1 interferon response to RNA viruses including including influenza and coronavirus Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcad.2020.02.007

Seed cycling for hormone balance – is it worth it?

Seed cycling for hormone balance – is it worth it?

Seed cycling – have you heard of it?

It’s a technique of eating certain combinations of seeds during the menstrual cycle to help support hormone balance. 

Many women say seed cycling relieves PMS symptoms and helps maintain a more regular cycle.  It’s an easy technique to practise – so long as you enjoy eating seeds!


How seed cycling works

Based on an average cycle length of 28-30 days, the pattern for eating the seeds goes like this:

Chart for seed cycling

The plan is based upon the idea that the different nutritional qualities of the seeds support the variations in hormone levels over the course of the month.  But, is it really necessary to seperate the seeds out like this?  Does it matter if you eat a mixture of each seeds every day?

To date, there are no research trials looking at the impact of seed cycling.  However, there are several studies examining the nutritional qualities and actions of some of these seeds individually – particularly flaxseed.  Flax is packed with nutrients (see below) that can be incredibly helpful when dealing with PMS symptoms or perimenopausal hormone fluctuations.

 

How are the seeds helpful?

Flax: contains high levels of compounds called lignans.  Our beneficial gut bacteria can convert these lignans into phytoestrogen compounds which have a modulating effect on oestrogen receptors.  When natural oestrogen levels are too low, phytoestrogens can support them.  At the other end of the scale, if you’re oestrogen dominant (which is often the case in endometriosis, PMT, PCOS, and early perimenopause) the phytoestrogens block the actions of natural oestrogen, helping to reduce its activity.  Alongside the lignans, flax provides protein and the omega-3 essentail fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which converts into anti-inflammatory compounds called prostaglandins.

*Flax is best eaten ground as the tiny seeds are difficult to chew and can pass straight on through your digestion!

Pumpkin: excellent source of omega-3 ALA, zinc, magnesium, fibre, and protein.

Sesame seeds: naturally rich in calcium to support bone health and may also relieve some symptoms of PMS.

Sunflower seeds: packed with vitamin E; a powerful antioxidant and shown to help relieve hot flushes in perimenopausal women.

 

Seed cycling or seeds everyday?

There’s no firm agreement on this question.  If you are keen to try seed cycling, go for it!  If you are new to eating seeds start with 1/2 a tablespoon of each seed and work up to the full tablespoon to give your digestive system time to adjust to the increase in fibre intake.

If seed cycling sounds a bit too much like hard work, keep things simple and focus on including ground flaxseed each day instead.  However you decide to include more seeds, remember to increase your water intake too.  These seeds are rich in fibre that soaks up fluid in the digestive tract and keeps waste matter moving steadily along.  More water is essential to prevent the seeds causing constipation!

 

How to include the seeds in your diet

  • Smoothies – blend the ground seeds with fruit, dairy or non-dairy milk, veggies, and a dollop of nut butter for a satisfying smoothie
  • Salads – sprinkle them into salads made up of a mixture of roasted veggies, salad leaves, meat or fish or egg, lentil pate, and a couple of tablespoons of a grain such as brown rice or buckwheat
  • Add to yoghurt and fruit for a snack
  • Mix with quinoa, cooked lentils, egg, baby tomatoes, chopped herbs, and a handful of baby spinach for a protein-rich lunch
  • Mix with chopped dried apricot, raisins, nuts and coconut flakes as a trail-mix-style snack
  • Add to homemade bread, muffins – or try this Menopause Cake recipe – yes, cake really can help you get through menopause!

 

Have you tried seed cycling?

What are your favourite tips for using seeds in recipes?

Share your ideas and discover more tips over in the Facebook group – Nutrition in York!

Fight Those Winter Bugs – Top Tips for Immune Support

Fight Those Winter Bugs – Top Tips for Immune Support

Our immune systems get a real workout at this time of year with cold, flu’, and tummy bug germs thriving in warm, dry, centrally heated homes and offices.  It’s a good idea to top up on immune-supporting nutrients to give your system the best chance of fending off these invaders as much as possible.

Here are 4 simple ways to nourish your immune system this winter…

 

Need more?  Try these too:

Vitamin C has powerful anti-viral action, particularly against the flu’ viruses.  Food sources include watercress, peppers, kiwi, berries, peas, parsley, broccoli, and lemons.  If you’re at high risk of infection consider using at least 1000mg per day of ascorbic acid or Ester-C.

Zinc may help to reduce the severity and shorten the duration of colds.  Food sources include poultry (chicken soup really can work wonders), pumpkin seeds, red meat, and cashew nuts.  Zinc citrate lozenges are a quick way to boost levels and helpful at the first tingles of a cold.

Echinacea has a long history of traditional use for respiratory infections like colds and flu’.  Go for an organic whole herb extract that contains the natural balance of active compounds; A.Vogel do tinctures, tablets and a throat spray in their excellent ‘Echinaforce‘ range.  It’s a winter staple in my remedy cupboard!

Do you have a favourite  cold and flu’ remedy?
Come and tell us over in the Facebook group and find out more winter health tips and nourishing recipes!