Immunity 101

Getting sick with any type of infection, be it a cold or a stomach bug can be very disruptive in our busy lives. Many people seem to be ‘lucky’ and rarely get sick whilst others seem to be sick frequently, catching anything that is going around. Why the difference? It’s all about our immune system…

Why is The Immune System so Important?

The human immune system is an amazing, complex mechanism that works 24/7, yet mostly we don’t notice its hard work. It is extremely complex and we are still discovering new aspects of immunity almost on a daily basis.

We all know that our immune system helps protect us from infection but it does much more. It also helps protect us against damage from free radicals and cancer. A healthy immune system is also important for wound healing. There is emerging evidence that the immune system is involved in depression, ageing, obesity, metabolic syndrome and a number of other chronic diseases.

So What is the Immune System?

To keep it simple we can say it is primarily made up of two parts – innate immunity and acquired (or cellular) immunity. Innate immunity is our first line of defence against infections and comprises many different types of immune cells, all with different functions. In order for acquired immunity to work well, innate immunity must be working efficiently. The cells of innate immunity also function as our first line of defence against cancer cells. One of our most important immune herbs (Echinacea) works, at least in part, by enhancing innate immunity when it is deficient. This makes Echinacea one of our most important immune herbs.

Acquired immunity is exactly what its name implies, it is acquired in response to specific infections. For example, when we come into contact with an infection our body develops antibodies against that specific infection. Once the infection has passed, the levels of these antibodies reduce but the body retains a ‘memory’, so that next time we are exposed to the same infection the levels of these antibodies increase quickly and we fight the infection much quicker than when we were first exposed to it. In many cases the immune system is so efficient we will not even know we have been infected.

Unfortunately, things can sometimes go wrong. When different aspects of the immune system are not in balance there is a risk of allergies and autoimmune diseases developing in susceptible people. Many chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis are caused by an imbalance or dysfunction of the immune system. As in case of infection, these conditions are also well treated and/or managed with natural medicines.

So, you can see how important it is to keep your immune system healthy. Not only to keep you free from winter infections but also to prevent more serious, chronic health issues.

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Herbs and Nutrients for Optimal Immune Function

Overall good nutrition is essential for general well-being, including a healthy immune system. However there are a number of herbs and nutrients that stand out for their role in supporting immunity.

Until relatively recently we thought that the role of vitamin D was limited to ensuring healthy, strong bones. However, we now know that it has many, more diverse functions including protection from some cancers. It also plays a vital role in immunity and helps protect against autoimmune diseases.

Vitamin D is hard to get through the diet. We rely predominately on sunlight on the skin, which initiates the production of vitamin D from cholesterol. Even in very sunny climates, such as Queensland, vitamin D deficiency is very common.

Vitamin C appears to protect against infection and can reduce many symptoms of colds such as runny nose, sore throat and improves recovery from an infection.

An essential mineral, zinc is vital for an efficient immune system and is often deficient in our diet.

A number of B Complex vitamins are also important, as is sufficient protein. Many of the infection fighting cells in the body, such as antibodies, are made from protein. So a diet deficient in protein can lead to reduced immunity.

Out of all the immune herbs I use in my clinic, Echinacea is probably the most important. One of my colleagues describes Echinacea as immune ‘insurance’ because it is so good at priming the immune system so that it is ready to fight invading infection. So, it is best taken as a preventative and if an infection does occur the immune system is more efficient at fighting it.

Echinacea has been used in Western herbal medicine since the late 19th century, when the Native Americans introduced it to the early settlers. In their culture it was considered to be “a remedy for more ailments than any other plant”. One of their prime uses for Echinacea was for the prevention and treatment of any type of infection.

There are two species of Echinacea used in herbal medicine, Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea, and it is the roots of these plants that appear to have the strongest effect on the immune system. The Native Americans told the early settlers, “When chewed the root, if of good quality, imparts a persistent tingling sensation.” We now know from modern science that this tingling is caused by the major active constituents called alkylamides, and it is indeed an instant indication of strength.

There are a number of studies showing that Echinacea is effective for both preventing and treating respiratory tract infections. Most people will also have heard of studies showing that Echinacea is not helpful – these are the ones that get the most publicity in the mass media. However, many of these studies were done before we had a good understanding about how the constituents work and on close inspection we see that many studies used Echinacea products that contain NO alkylamides. It is not surprising that it did not work!! So, what this tells us is that Echinacea has to be of high quality and prescribed in the correct dosage to have its immune enhancing activity.

Andrographis is another wonderful herb that is very effective in supporting immunity. It is traditionally used in the ancient Chinese and Ayurvedic systems of medicine.  There are a number of clinical studies showing its effectiveness in treating respiratory tract infections, particularly common cold and tonsillitis, including in children.

Holy Basil is a beautifully fragrant herb from the Ayurvedic tradition of medicine. It is considered as sacred and is often grown at the entrance to houses and temples. Clinical trials support its use in respiratory tract infections, including in children.

Pelargonium is a native of South Africa and was introduced to Europe by Charles Henry Sevens, an Englishman who experienced relief from tuberculosis whilst visiting South Africa in 1897. There are many clinical studies supporting its use for the treatment of many tupes of respiratory infections including acute and chronic bronchitis, common cold, sinusitis and tonsillitis including in children.

Other herbs that are very effective include Cat’s Claw which improves immunity and Elder Berries that have an anti-viral activity.

It is important to use the correct combination of herbs at the appropriate dosage. This varies between individuals depending on the state of their immunity and the symptoms they experience. The treatment also often changes during the course of treatment as symptoms change.

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Treat Flu Symptoms

If you have a cold or flu infection you need to take precautions that will prevent its spread and reduce its severity and duration.

  • Speak to your healthcare practitioner at the very earliest signs of an infection. If you begin taking the appropriate herbs and nutrients immediately, you can often prevent the infection from taking hold.
  • Wash your hands frequently throughout the day with soap and warm water.
  • Always cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough.
  • Avoid close contact with other people as much as possible and avoid crowded places.
  • Take time off, rest and stay warm. This gives the immune system a good chance to deal with the infection quickly and efficiently.
  • Include in your meals nutritious foods and plenty of fluids. Homemade soups with plenty of vegetables, ginger and garlic are great. They are very nutritious but do not take lots of energy to digest, leaving more energy for the immune system to do its job.
  • Avoid cold drinks and foods, fatty foods and foods containing sugar and artificial additives.
  • Excessive dairy foods may increase mucus production.

If you feel feverish make a cup of Flu Tea, rug up and sweat it out. You can repeat this as often as needed until the feverish symptoms have passed. A hot bath can also help to induce sweating.

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Natural Strategies for Dealing with PMS

Premenstrual syndrome is very common. According to research, 75% of menstruating women experience some symptoms of PMS that can range from physical to emotional, and mild to severe. PMS physical symptoms include breast tenderness, bloating, water retention, sugar cravings, headaches and lack of energy. Emotionally, women can go through mood swings, feeling easily irritated, frustrated and not being able to cope.

The major cause of PMS is hormonal imbalance, particularly during the last half of the menstrual cycle (the luteal phase). These imbalances can be quite subtle but can have profound effects. Some researchers suggest PMS may also result from a woman’s increased sensitivity to natural fluctuations in hormone levels at this time of the menstrual cycle. It is interesting that the most common times of emotional difficulties for women are at times in their lives when hormonal fluctuations occur, for example in the premenstrual time, after giving the birth and around the menopausal years.

Women also need to be aware of a severe form of PMS called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), even though it is considered to be less common and affects only 3% to 8% of women with regular menstrual cycle. PMDD is distinguished from general PMS by more acute signs of depression, moodiness, anxiety, tension and irritability. This form of PMS can be quite disruptive and destructive to women’s lives in general and relationships in particular.

Battling PMS Symptoms Conventionally

Unfortunately not many women know how to deal with these issues or are not even aware that there are natural solutions that can relieve the PMS symptoms and help them ‘sail through’ this time of the cycle without feeling miserable. Medically PMS is usually managed with hormone therapy or antidepressants. These are effective in some cases but both treatments can have side effects and neither address the underlying cause of the PMS.

Dealing with PMS Naturally: The Power of Herbs and Nutrients

Natural treatment with herbs and nutrients is another option that is very effective, without the side effects of drug treatments. For example, Chaste Tree is a fantastic herb, quite commonly used for PMS treatment. In some trials, Chaste Tree was shown to help regulate hormones. According to research Chaste Tree has a beneficial affect on brain neurotransmitters, which in turn regulate hormones. These neurotransmitters are also linked to the feelings of pleasure and reward. During PMS this function can be reduced, which can result in reduced motivation, attention, memory, desire, ability to cope and increased anxiety.

Remember, to be effective, Chaste Tree needs to be prescribed in right doses, tailored to the individual requirements. More so, Chaste Tree on its own is often not enough. It is also important to treat the symptoms throughout the whole cycle (before, during and after PMS). It is most likely that to achieve the desired results, we usually combine Chaste Tree with other herbs that are needed to nourish the nervous system and improve your body’s response to stress, reduce mood fluctuations and help you deal with water retention and bloating.

Nutrients are just as vital and are usually a necessary part of the treatment process. As an example, Zinc levels often drop in premenstrual times and this alone can reduce your immunity. This could explain why some women are more prone to various infections in the premenstrual time: from colds and flus to herpes flare-ups. Magnesium is another key nutrient as it helps balance neurotransmitters and hormones. B complex vitamins, calcium and vitamin C are also necessary to improve the nervous system and adrenal function.

Eat Well

Do not skip breakfast and eat regular meals with healthy snacks in between, as this will help prevent your blood sugar dropping, hence lessen the cravings. Avoid refined sugars, an excessive amount of starchy carbohydrates and saturated fat as well as processed foods. Include more lean protein in your diet such as chicken breast, turkey, fish and avoid having red meat more than twice a week. For healthy fats e.g. Omega 3 enjoy salmon (grilled or baked) coupled with vegetables. Make fresh fruits and vegetables a daily must-have. For example, bananas are full of potassium, known to alleviate PMS symptoms. Combine it with vitamin B rich nuts and you will have a tasty and nutritious snack. Drink plenty of water, as it will help lessen bloating and ease water retention. Don’t think that by drinking less water you will ease bloating.

Sleep Longer for Feeling Better

Many people underestimate the importance of sleep. Sleep helps us restore our nervous system, improve hormonal balance, maintain healthy weight and ultimately improve longevity. Get seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Make it a priority throughout the whole cycle. Exercise for energy. Research suggests that regular aerobic activity throughout the cycle can reduce the symptoms of PMS such as bloating, fatigue and irritability at the premenstrual times. Exercising releases endorphins, which means you will feel happier and energetic afterwards. If you are experiencing a severe form of PMS (or menstruation), take a milder form of aerobic activity e.g. walking or easy jogging. Several yoga poses are considered to be particularly beneficial in relieving the cramps and helping you adapt better to stress and anxiety.

Apart from getting the right herbal prescription and adjusting your lifestyle habits, what else can you do to cope better and reduce stress premenstrually?

PMS usually intensifies the feelings you already have. During PMS women often don’t feel supported or validated. My advice would be to think through the things that you find particularly stressful during PMS and try to improve the situation or address it beforehand. Here is a good example: women tend to overload their schedules and ‘squeezing things’ in already tight agendas. If that sounds familiar, learn to say ‘No’ and don’t make any hasty promises if your schedule is already full, particularly if the additional activities coincide with your premenstrual time. BE GENTLE WITH YOURSELF.

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Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 Diabetes

Here are some disturbing statistics related to diabetes. Type 2 diabetes accounts for approximately 90% of all diabetes cases.

“The number of people diagnosed with and dying from diabetes continues on a relentlessly upward trajectory, with no signs of abating”. This statement was made by officials at the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) and the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) 47th Annual Meeting (Sept 2011).

Ann Keeling, CEO of the International Diabetes Federation, describes diabetes as a global catastrophe!!

So, what are the latest stats for diabetes?

In 2003 there were 150 million people worldwide with diabetes and it was predicted that by 2025 there would be 300 million. Well guess what, as alarming as that prediction was at the time, it was nothing compared to the reality. In 2011 there are already 366 million people worldwide with diabetes. This is a 30% increase on the 2010 figure of 285 million. This year 4.6 million deaths will be attributed to diabetes.  This means one person will die from diabetes every 7 seconds!

What causes type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is largely a lifestyle disease. The current statistics for diabetes are very alarming and personally I find them very disturbing because I know that in the majority of cases type 2 diabetes can be prevented with the correct lifestyle and diet. I also believe that it can be reversed if appropriate changes are made.

Obesity is a major risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes. It is no wonder we are seeing such an astronomical increase in the incidence of type 2 diabetes when we consider the explosion in the number of people who are overweight or obese.

Genetics play a role but only a small one. The condition will not develop without the adverse impact of environmental factors such as diet and lifestyle.

What can be done for type 2 diabetes?

Nutrients and herbs

There are many nutrients that are essential for the maintenance of healthy blood sugar levels and normal glucose metabolism. These include chromium, magnesium, many of the B Complex vitamins and others. A diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates can deplete the body of these essential nutrients. Alcohol, caffeine and excessive fluid loss will also cause significant losses of these nutrients.

Many herbs can be very beneficial for reducing sugar and carbohydrate cravings, improving the way the body metabolises sugar, improving fat loss and improving blood sugar levels. Many are also beneficial for reducing the unhealthy factors associated with diabetes including high cholesterol and triglycerides, high blood pressure and circulatory problems.

These nutrients and herbs are often prescribed to kick start the process of weight loss and make it easier for you to embark on a healthy eating regime without having to battle cravings for fat producing foods. The actual prescription for each individual may be slightly different because individual metabolism, health needs and preferences are taken into account.

The use of natural medicines is not a substitute for a healthy life style

You can take control of the situation easily and quickly. If you have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome, which often precedes type 2 diabetes, you can improve your health significantly by making the appropriate dietary and lifestyle changes.

  • Fat loss is of major importance. Even if you are slim, you could be carrying a little extra weight around the middle. This can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. As little as 5 to 10% weight loss can make a big difference.
  • Exercise not only helps with fat loss it also helps transport glucose into the cells. Regular moderate exercise is fundamental to good health. It should always be something you enjoy and should suit your age, statue and capabilities. A combination of cardio and resistance is best.
  • The food you eat has a huge impact on your health. It will improve or damage your health depending on what you eat and how it is prepared.
  • Eat lots of fresh vegetables, avoiding too much of the high starch vegetables such as potatoes and corn. In summer salads are great, or you can steam, stir fry or bake your vegetables. Aim at 3 cups per day and if you eat more that’s great.
  • Fruit is good but should be eaten in moderation (2 to 3 pieces per day) because it is high in natural sugars.It is a good idea to combine a piece of fresh fruit with a few nuts eg almonds (only a 3 or 4). This slows down the absorption of the sugars in the fruit and gives you a more even blood glucose and energy curve. Minimise the very sweet, starchy fruits such as bananas.
  • Protein is important for improving muscle mass, particularly in conjunction with moderate exercise. Fish, lean meat, free range chicken and eggs and low fat dairy products are good sources of animal protein. The main vegetable sources of protein are the legumes such as chick peas (in homus), lentils, red kidney beans, adzuki beans, soy beans and related products such as tofu and tempah. Nuts, seeds and grains also provide some protein. Non-animal sources of protein do not contain all the essential amino acids, so vegetarians need to have a wide variety of these foods every day in order to obtain enough complete protein.
  • Avoid processed foods. These are often loaded with sugar and/or fat and are a source of empty kilojoules that do nothing to improve your health. They encourage overeating, make you feel sluggish and are a major cause of excessive weight gain.
  • Foods that have a low Glycaemic Index (GI) are beneficial providing they are healthy! Many foods that are marketed as low GI are not healthy and will not help you lose weight eg ice cream, chocolate spreads.
  • Glycaemic Load (GL) is also a consideration. It is determined not only by the GI of the food but the size of the total meal. The higher the glycaemic load the higher your blood sugar will be.

Simply by eating correctly and partaking in regular moderate exercise you stand a good chance of preventing type 2 diabetes, or reversing it if it already exists.



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The Importance of Testosterone in Men

Testosterone is the major male sex hormone. In many men testosterone levels will decline with age but this need not be the case. Good health is the key to maintaining great testosterone levels as you age.

As a male, why do you need testosterone?
Testosterone is vital reproduction, sexual desire and performance. It is also important for the growth of bone and muscle. To keep up a healthy, active physical and sexual life, testosterone must be kept at a healthy level.

How can you tell if your levels are healthy or not?
Low levels of testosterone can cause low libido, affect your moods, cause low energy and in some aspects affect your mental abilities. Heard of ‘Male Menopause’? Yes, men can go through a type of menopause also. Medically it is often called Androgen Deficiency in Ageing Males (ADAM). This is where libido is low but irritability and fatigue are high. Memory problems increase along with depressive thoughts, disturbed sleep and an inability to cope.

Major causes of lower testosterone levels, resulting in ADAM are:
Stress: – which causes energy reserves to be diverted away from the sex and reproductive system, leading to detrimental consequences on sexual and reproductive outcomes.
Obesity: – causing the body to increase the conversion of testosterone to oestrogen (female hormone), resulting in a hormonal imbalance which overproduces body fat and reduces muscle bulk. Bringing the hormones into balance, allows body fat to be reduced and muscle to be built.
Alcohol: – is a big contributor to a loss in healthy testosterone levels also. Testing has shown that of men male alcoholics often have low levels of testosterone and an over production of oestrogen. You do not have to actually be an alcoholic for alcohol to have a detrimental impact.

So, what can you do to increase your testosterone to a healthy level, and bring back a renewed vitality for life?
Four tips to start you on your way are:
1. A good healthy eating plan. Maintain a diet high in fresh vegetables with some fresh fruit. Eat small amounts of saturated fats and increased omega-3 fats from cold water fish. Make sure your diet is not too high in carbohydrates. Carbs are addictive and easily lead to weight gain. Minimise processed foods, sugar, caffeine and alcohol.
2. Moderate exercise on a regular basis. This can be any type of exercise that you enjoy. The important thing is consistency.
3. Reduce excessive stress in your life. Take time out for YOU. Remember how you felt when you were not so stressed. What works well to de-stress you? Whatever it is start doing it! eg walks on the beach, a game of golf, read a good book etc.
If you can adhere to these key lifestyle recommendations and you will age healthily and the benefits of testosterone will be yours!

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Menopause – a new lease on life!

Menopause – Not the End but a Brand New Lease on Life


When we women hear the word ‘menopause’, we generally run and hide or simply sigh with acceptance. Most of us have heard so many terrible stories about menopause or perhaps we have observed family members going through ‘the change’ when we were younger.

Should the thought of Menopause strike fear into our hearts? Are the stories of hot flushes and out of control hormones true?

The good news is not all women experience menopausal symptoms. Those who do have symptoms will experience some or all of the following: night sweats, hot flushes, fatigue, irregular periods, emotional turmoil and insomnia. For these women the most common menopausal symptom, reported by approximately 70%, is hot flushes. Emotional changes are also very common with approximately 40% suffering  from depression.

The average age for women to reach menopause is 50-51yrs with most Australian women being between the ages of 45 and 55 years. Some women are diagnosed with menopause much earlier, perhaps in their 30’s or 40’s. From a holistic viewpoint, and certainly from my own clinical experience, such early menopause is often caused by adrenal fatigue contributing to premature ovarian failure. I have had a great deal of success in treating these women with herbs and nutrients that support the nervous system and the adrenals. In most cases normal menstruation can be re-established and all signs of menopause disappear.

Optimal adrenal health is fundamental for a smooth transition through menopause. In the years leading up to menopause the ovaries gradually reduce their production of female hormones until they stop completely. It is the adrenal glands that take over the role of hormone production at this time. So, the healthier your adrenals are going into menopause the easier it will be for you. One of the most significant factors that deplete adrenal functioning is stress, something that most of us have had a lot of by the time we get to our late 40s!

If you are trying to gauge when your own transition into menopause will end a long-term study called “The Melbourne Women’s Midlife Health Study” could help.  More than 400 Australian women were involved in this research which followed them over 10-15 years. One finding from the study was:  if you have had at least three months without a period, then your last period is likely to come within the following year.

Come out of hiding, there are ways to alleviate or potentially eliminate transitional menopausal symptoms. Say good bye to fatigue, insomnia, hot flushes and emotional ups and downs with the holistic approach offered by natural medicine, which has a very high success rate. Natural medicines can be used in conjunction with conventional medication or on their own.

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Brown Rice Reduces the Risk of Type 2 Di

Brown Rice Reduces the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes

Brown rice reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes whilst white rice increases the risk.
A number of studies looking at the effect of rice on type 2 diabetes risk have found the following:
• White rice – people who had at least 5 servings per week had a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who had less than 1 serve per month
• Brown rice – people who had at least 2 servings per week had a lower risk for developing type 2 diabetes than those who consumed less than 1 serve per month
You can see from this data that 2 servings of brown rice per week can help to prevent type 2 diabetes. Whereas on the other hand the more white rice that is consumed the greater the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
This information is particularly beneficial for those people who already have type 2 diabetes or who are at risk of developing it.

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Brown Rice Better Than White…. There is

Brown Rice Better Than White….
There is little doubt that brown rice is more nutritious than white rice. It is less processed, higher in good quality soluable firbre and higher in nutrients. When brown rice is milled and polished to turn it into white rice a number of nutrients are greatly reduced. These include B complex vitamins (especially vitamin V3, B1 and B6), iron, manganese and phosphorus. Almost all the fibre and essential fatty acids are lost.

Brown rice helps improve digestive health
Rice bran is a soluable fibre and is high in brown rice but not white. It is a valuable source of food for the ‘good’ intestinal bacteria and can help to relieve a number of digestive complaints. It can help where there is excessive bloating and flatulence and is particularly beneficial after antibiotic possibly in conjunction with a good probiotic supplement.

Feeding beneficial intestinal bacteria is one of the easiest and most effective ways to improve digestive health. There is only space in the gut for a finite number of organisms. It stands to reason, the higher the population of ‘good’ bacteria the lower the population of ‘bad’ bacteria.

Other sources of soluable fibre include oats (oat bran), psyllium husks, slippery elm powder. Fruit and vegetables also contain soluable fibre.

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Losing Weight – The whole fruit is best…

Losing Weight – The whole fruit is best………

One of the best ways to lose weight is to eat less and the easiest way to eat less is to reduce feelings of hunger.
A study published in 2009 in the journal Appetite showed that eating a whole apple with skin reduced hunger and had a longer lasting effect than apple in other forms eg apple juice, apple juice with added fibre, apple sauce, apple without skin. In other words, eating a whole unpeeled apple made people feel full for longer.
For me there are no surprises in this research and you can actually improve on this result by having a few nuts such as almonds with the whole fruit. The addition of the nuts slows down the absorption of sugar from the fruit and gives a feeling of fullness for even longer and lowers the glycaemic index (GI). This means you have lower insulin secretion and a longer, more sustainable energy release.
Although the occasional unsweetened fruit juice will not do you a lot of harm it is important to ensure that the majority of your fruit intake is from whole fruit.

PubMed link

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