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Olwen Anderson's Blog

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Sunday, January 06, 2019

I'm moving to a new web site - but let's stay connected! You can find my new blog articles at 


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When you realise your efforts are getting results

Saturday, October 06, 2018
It can sneak up on you, but one day you realise: it’s happening. Finally. All the work you’ve been putting in to boosting your health is paying off.

The reason this realisation can sneak up on you is because we so easily forget what we’re not continually reminded of. When you are in pain or have trouble getting around, experience that foggy feeling of sleep deprivation, or try to cope with dragging fatigue, your body reminds you constantly of what’s wrong. But this time you listened. And did the work that had to be done to get yourself well.

So, for some time now you’ve been diligently climbing under the doona early enough to get a solid eight hours shut-eye. You’ve been making the time to source fresh food and prepare wholesome meals. Your running shoes are showing signs they’re wearing out from your daily exercise. You’ve even made meditation as much a part of your routine as brushing your teeth. 

It was hard work at first; especially hard to manage yourself to do what you knew had to be done. But then the morning comes where you wake feeling truly rested and refreshed. You jump out of bed without having to hobble down the hallway due to stiff joints, aches and pains. Work is getting done, and that mid-afternoon energy slump that used to sap your productivity has evaporated. Somehow you feel happier, your mood is positive again, more stable, and you feel like you’re getting along with your loved ones better. 

Now that you’ve achieved this wellness you don’t want to slide backwards; that could be all too easy. Now you’re feeling better you could too easily listen to your inner toddler whinging that you don’t need to exercise today really, you’re fit now. You could decide that you’re too busy to prepare good food for this meal so just pick up some takeaway. And to skip meditating because your mood is already good. But you know that if you give in to this natural laziness all those unpleasant feelings and physical symptoms might return, just as gradually and subtly as they left. 

You don’t want to lose what you’ve worked so hard to achieve. So give yourself a pat on the back for having got this far, and keep it up. The more you do, the more that little voice inside discouraging you from trying will fade away. Enjoy feeling well!

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy "Beat Burnout This Year"

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Managing high blood pressure with your mouth

Saturday, September 29, 2018
Well, this should be simple, you think, as your practitioner slides a DASH diet sheet across the desk. You’re just been told you’re almost at the threshold for diagnosis with chronic high blood pressure (hypertension), but your practitioner says you might be able to avoid life-long medication through what you eat. 

They’re suggesting a widely researched diet that’s been shown to help reduce blood pressure – the DASH diet. Looks pretty simple; no exotic or expensive ingredients. Missing the fast food, cakes and pastries of course, but you’d expected that. This should be easy, you think.

But if the solution is so simple, why haven’t more people with high blood pressure opted to use what they put in their mouth as a treatment?

I suspect there are two obstacles. The first is vegetables. You need to have 5-7 serves of vegetables each day on the DASH diet. ½ cup of chopped up vegetables or one cup of leafy green vegetables makes one serve. Think you’re already doing this? Here’s a way to check: measure out seven cups of vegetables in the morning, and eat them all before you go to bed. You could enjoy some in a vegetable omelette for breakfast, some raw in a lunchtime salad, and the rest with your evening meal.  

Here’s a tip: If you can’t gather together seven serves of fresh vegetables from your fridge today, it’s likely there just isn’t enough vegetables in your diet, period. Better head out to the shops or farmers’ market today.

The other obstacle to eating well? Convenience.  We’re all lazy by nature, it seems. And there’s no way around it – if you choose a healthier diet with more fresh unprocessed foods, it’s going to take time and effort. Inevitably, you’ve got to do something to vegetables before you can eat them, even if it’s just chopping them into a salad. 

There are other aspects to managing high blood pressure, absolutely – diet is just one part of a management strategy, and the choice of treatment is always yours. But if you’d like to opt for the more natural options, choosing what to eat can be a good place to start. 

You can find more details about the DASH diet online: “Your guide to lowering your blood pressure with DASH” is available for free on the internet – and although it’s written for the American market, you could easily translate it to Australian eating.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy "The Power and the Perils of Licorice", here

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Is social media affecting your mental health?

Saturday, September 22, 2018
Before social media, there were slide nights. After returning from a holiday you’d invite your friends around, ply them with food and drinks, and share your happy snaps, often on a slide projector. But they only got to see the good images, mind you. 

What wasn’t included were shots of your partner being unceremoniously booted out of a restaurant due to their cultural insensitivity. The tears when you became hopelessly lost in a new city. How you looked after food poisoning from that dodgy local eatery. Instead every image was carefully curated to make it seem your holiday was completely magical. I bet some folk left those events feeling a little envious, like their lives just weren’t so successful in comparison.

Slide projectors and slide nights are now historical artefacts. In modern times we have social media like Facebook and Instagram as the tool to make it appear our lives are very special, wealthy, healthy and happy. That we’ve got it all together. Just like the slide nights, though, the less than ideal images are left out. Unless you’re savvy to it, what is presented seems so real; you can begin to believe that your friends’ lives are just more successful than yours.

It’s no wonder, either: Populating every Instagram and Facebook account are shots of people that seem to be on the up-and-up. They’re in great shape, eating “clean”, earning lots, living in stylish clean homes. Women regain their pre-pregnancy shape in astonishing time. People eating highly restrictive diets somehow look great instead of gaunt. No commuting fatigue, no bad hair days, no ‘bad’ food. Does it have an effect? You bet: Australian research found that just 10 minutes of swiping through Facebook posts has a deflating effect on women’s mood.

This means that unless you already have the skills to see through it all you could easily get sucked into eating a severely restricted diet. And if you’re already a little depressed or anxious your mood could deteriorate further. That’s not what you want.

But social media is a useful tool, too, and life would be a little less without it. Like the slide nights, the internet provides a way to stay connected with our communities and the people we love. But the next time you’re browsing Facebook and notice your mood deflating, just remember: what you see on the screen isn’t the total picture of a real life.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy "The Illusion of Fancy Food on Social Media"

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Tis the season for tissues

Saturday, September 15, 2018
Great to see the spring rains arrive. All those plants thought the rain was pretty good too. That gentle watering from Mother Nature was their signal to get flowering. And you know what that means: pollen, and lots of it.

If you don’t suffer from hay fever then spring just seems like a pretty time of year, with flowers, bees and butterflies in abundance. But if you have an allergy to pollens, then spring is the season for tissues, and lots of them, as your respiratory system protests.

Sneezing is your body’s natural defence response when it breathes in something your immune system has decided is potentially dangerous. So the campaign begins: some violent sneezing should propel it out fast. If that doesn’t work, perhaps a wave of mucus will wash it out. 

You can blame your streaming nose on your body’s natural histamine response. When the dedicated patrol members of your immune system, immunoglobulins, detect an invader they rapidly flag other cells in your immune system to take action and release histamine. This is another alarm system that sets off even more body reactions. The cells lining your nose, mouth, even your eyelids are directed to produce and release watery mucus in what seems like gallon quantities.

If only you could move away, just until the pollen count dies down, then come home. But for most of us, this just isn’t practical.

There are ways to hose down this reaction naturally. Some people reach for homoeopathic remedies as hay fever first aid. Others find keeping a bottle of chewable vitamin C tablets close by helps. You see, vitamin C is a natural anti-histamine, helping calm that over-reaction to allergens like pollen. A word of caution though: this tip shouldn’t be tried for anaphylactic allergic reactions, and people with kidney problems should seek professional advice first. 

If you’d like to try this out, take a 500mg chewable vitamin C tablet next time your nose starts to tickle. You may notice your reaction diminishes in intensity. But if the pollens remain in the air you may have to take another tablet soon as encountering more of the pollen will trigger yet another sneezing session.

Some people find that eliminating foods renowned for triggering intolerances can help reduce the intensity of their hay fever; like dairy foods. You may need to try out one remedy or a combination of strategies to find what works for you. 

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No Wonder You're Not Excited About Breakfast

Saturday, September 01, 2018
It used to puzzle me that people don’t get excited about breakfast. But as I pondered the bowl of mushy bland nothingness in front of me while away from home, the reason became clear. This must be punishment food, surely? Then I realised: this packaged breakfast cereal is the first meal of the day for many people. Imagine launching a day’s work fueled by this unappealing sludge.

But it sure is convenient. This modern new product must have seemed a god-send a few decades ago for people who up until then had to stir porridge, fry eggs, tackle the inevitable washing up that comes with preparing real food. With the advent of packaged cereal all you had to do was open the box, pour into a bowl, add some milk, and eat. Breakfast was done, and only a bowl and spoon to wash. So fast.
But there was something missing: flavor. Being just processed grains, this soggy stuff is so flavourless that inducements are needed to make you eat it. Like sugar, that legal drug of addiction that can induce an energy slump just as you’re trying to concentrate at work. Which makes cereal not such a great way to fuel up for the day.

Yet eating is one of the great pleasures of life, wouldn’t you agree? And we have such an abundant supply of food in Australia, with endless variety. We’re actually so excited about food we have created entire reality television shows about cooking and filled miles of book shelves just about food: where you can get the best, what’s the most delicious way to prepare it. You might be one of the many people who get excited about what you could enjoy eating at the next meal. So why would you subject yourself to a bowl of insipid mush each morning?

If you make the time for it (organise yourself), breakfast can be something to look forward to. Full of flavor and texture. A chance for you to re-connect with your partner and family, to ponder the day ahead and power up with some high quality protein, good fats, and complex carbohydrates. 

How about a vegetable omelette, perhaps. Or maybe some leftover stew on toast. Even just a sliced hard-boiled egg, hummus and tomato slices on toast. Still quick to prepare, much more appealing for your taste buds than that processed sludge, and more power for your day ahead.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy this recipe for zucchini fritters, which would make a rather nice breakfast!

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The perils and perks of your selective memory

Saturday, August 25, 2018

There was a great movie released in 1997 called ‘Men in Black’. You know, one of those unrealistic yet hilarious action flicks where you could, temporarily, escape into a different world. The two heroes of the story, apparently charged with some Very Important Work in the world had a special device. If you had witnessed something they thought you shouldn’t have, they could erase all your memory of the event with the press of a button: “Just look at this light for a moment…”

Perhaps this fantastical device wasn’t all that far-fetched, as it seems it might already be operating in our own lives. And in fact, there’s a part of our brains that performs the same function.  As information comes in from our senses (like sight, sound, touch, taste, smell), your brain decides what’s worth paying attention to, what you should remember for a few minutes, and what should be remembered forever.  In short, what seems unimportant at the time is tossed away, forgotten.

A very useful attribute it is, too, because if you had to remember every small thing in your day: (like who you spoke to, what you said, how you felt, what you ate, which part of your body itched momentarily) you could soon feel quite overwhelmed. Instead, we pay attention to what seems to be important at the time.

Alas, when you’re focused on improving your health, this selective memory can be a hindrance. This ease in forgetting makes it possible to walk out of a consultation and almost immediately forget the practitioner’s advice; as though one of those devices had just erased your memory. The same thing can happen as you try to recall what symptoms have changed since your last meeting with them. You can’t remember because when it happened your brain didn’t deem it as something worth remembering. But that makes it harder to sense when you’re progressing too. So what can you do?

One tool you could use is a notebook. Write down the issue that you’re working to heal and each day make a brief note of how you’re going. What’s changing, whether you’re trying out a new therapy and how it’s going for you. Then at your next appointment you’ll be able to easily and accurately let them know how your treatment is progressing, how well you responded to what they prescribed, and what still needs to be attended to.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy "Tips For Better Brain Health" 

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Tips For Better Brain Health

Tuesday, July 31, 2018
Nothing quite compares, I think, with the awful sensation that you’re losing control of your mind. Whether it’s a mood change that seems out of your control (like depression or anxiety), trauma that seems to hold your thoughts on a continual nightmare loop, loss of function through stroke or dementia, or a full blown mental illness that leaves you incapable of thinking straight. I don’t think anyone would queue up to experience any of these. 

But like any other organ in your body, your brain will respond well to the right care and feeding. So I’d like to pass on some tips for keeping the grey matter between your ears in resilient shape. 

Your brain, mostly consisting of fat cells, relishes certain types of food. It loves good fats, the omega-3 oils from green vegetables, seeds and oily fish. Fats help maintain the cells. Your brain loves high quality animal protein as well, like that from fish, eggs and meat. With this it creates the chemical messengers that help manage your mood. And what about fuel to do the work of thinking? For this, your brain appreciates a steady supply of glucose from low glycemic index complex carbohydrates. Like vegetables, oats and brown rice. 

The foods that research suggests your brain cells don’t appreciate include sugar, which is suspected to help create the brain-clogging plaques that bring on dementia. Also ‘bad’ fats like trans fats (think processed foods, pastries and the like) can tend to stiffen the oil membrane that surrounds each cell, making moving nutrients in and waste out of cells more challenging. 

But besides what you put in your mouth, there are also certain activities that support healthier brain function: Like daily meditation, which is a chance for your brain to take a conscious rest and reduces stress. Enough sleep is essential (usually 7-8 hours for most of us), because that’s when restorative growth hormone is secreted. Exercise, although it’s technically exercise for your body, also benefits your brain. Like meditation, exercise reduces stress; but it also builds muscle, which supports better blood glucose regulation. Having a purpose in life and being connected with your community helps too.

No matter what’s driving you to care for your brain better, take the simple steps of feeding it well, get enough rest and make sure you exercise. Then you’ll be less likely to experience that awful sense that your brain has slipped out of your control.

(By the way, this post was inspired by Dr Barbara Lipska's story "The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind". You can find out more about Dr Lipska and her book on her web site, here)

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy "How To Clear The Mists Of Brain Fog"

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Kick sugar cravings to the curb with this key diet strategy

Saturday, July 21, 2018
There’s a major stumbling block that you’ve likely encountered whenever you’ve tried to reduce your sugar intake, or go on a weight loss diet: sweet cravings. Perhaps you’ve quit adding flavour syrup to your morning coffee. Or managed to walk past the chocolate display. Or replaced fruit juice with water. Then the grumblings from your brain begin: want sugar, now.

Your brain is quite experienced in convincing you to do what it wants, and it can generate some pretty nasty feelings of overwhelm as it tries to convince you that this is a life threatening situation: get sugar or you’ll die! If you’re particularly stressed, or tired, it’s even easier to give in and you’re back to square one: with the weight gain, ‘hangry’ episodes and mood swings that come with a sugar addiction. That’s so disheartening.

I’d like to show you a tweak to your diet that will quieten that dragon of sugar addiction. The ‘trick’ (if that’s the right term) is to include high quality (animal) protein at each meal along with fibre.

Animal protein works because biochemically, animal protein molecules are tough for your stomach to break apart, so food spends longer in your stomach. Also, protein doesn’t release energy as readily as carbohydrates, so it won’t spike your blood glucose like sugar and some simple carbohydrates do (think anything like cakes, biscuits, lollies). Fibre works for the same reason: it slows down the release of energy from food.

Changing your breakfast is a key strategy. Many people get caught by a growing sugar addiction because they have only a carbohydrate-rich cereal or muesli for breakfast. That kind of breakfast is almost guaranteed to ignite sugar cravings later on because it’s digested so quickly. If instead you have a couple of eggs, or some savoury mince, or even some leftover roast lamb on toast for breakfast, then sugar cravings, if they do come up, will be a distant murmur rather than a distracting drive to get hold of something sweet, soon. 

You can enjoy animal protein as a snack too. Even though it may feel a little odd to reach into your handbag for a hard-boiled egg at snack time, instead of a sweet muesli bar.

Gradually, as you overcome that pesky sugar addiction, you’ll notice your mood becomes more stable, and so does your energy levels. Now you’re winning the battle against sugar.

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Stories of Hope And Guidance

Saturday, July 14, 2018
If only it were a dream. Suddenly, you’re in this strange new landscape, feeling lost. You really just want to get home, to your usual life. If only a guide who has been here before would take your hand and lead you home. 

When you’ve had an accident, or a sudden troubling diagnosis, life might feel something like this. What used to be the familiar comforting landscape of your life has suddenly shifted to a place you don’t recognise. Maybe you’ve just woken up in hospital surrounded by beeping machines and people with clipboards using complicated words. Or you’ve just left the medical centre clutching the paper detailing your life-changing diagnosis. Either way, it’s like you’re in a bad dream. So, where’s the guide? How can you lose this sense of overwhelm and regain a sense of control?

Mercifully, no matter what your ailment, it’s likely someone else has experienced a very similar situation to what you’re facing. And they’ve taken the time to write down their journey. A librarian might call this kind of book a health biography. They can easily help you find those stories amongst the shelves because there are so many of them.

Some of these people might never have written a book before. But they’ve sat in many waiting rooms, fielded both useful and unhelpful advice, experienced the frustration of blind alleys when treatment didn’t work, and eventually worked out the treatment right for them.  Not only can they alert you to potential pitfalls in treatment, they can reassure you that there is a way through this.

As you read, you’ll likely learn about many other treatments that you might not have known existed. After all, there are a multitude of different ways to address any particular health problem. But each practitioner you’ve met in your journey so far might only be aware of a handful of other methods.

Before you head over to the library, though, keep one point in mind: Books are not ‘peer reviewed’ texts, and as occasional publishing scandals demonstrate (think Belle Gibson) it’s possible to put anything into print – factual or otherwise. So when you come across a potential solution that your biographer has suggested, do your research and check the facts. The library can help here, too.

You might find that through reading the stories of those who have travelled this landscape before you, you can find your way home.

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Olwen Anderson @olwenanderson


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