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Olwen Anderson's Blog

Fatty acids inflammation and your gut microflora

Saturday, August 22, 2015
One of the intriguing questions in clinical practice is why individuals respond so differently to a variety of diets. One person thrives on a diet high in saturated fats (like coconut oil and butter). Another client finds that they have to avoid saturated fats completely or suffer the inflammatory consequences. It’s been a puzzle, but another piece of the solution was revealed in a scientific paper published this year.

The review explored how fatty acids influence inflammatory processes, but also posed a curious question: could it be that gut microbes unique to each person are what influence why some people react radically to inflammatory triggers and others not at all.

Fatty acids, you might already know, are the building blocks of fats. There are many different ways of classifying them that can be both useful (if you’re a hard core scientist doing research) and incredibly confusing and overwhelming (if you’re the layman  trying to understand it all better).  So don’t worry too much about fatty acid classifications except to recognise one important variety:  omega-3 fats.

It seems the microflora in your gut play a big role in controlling how your body responds to fats in your diet. There are zillions of species of bacteria inhabiting our world; some have created huge thriving communities in our intestines. (Actually, one of the big questions facing science now is working out who’s actually in charge – us or the microbes!)

The published study hypothesised that when we eat certain fats, the microbes in our gut react. If they’re happy with the food that’s presented the microbes benefit and so do we. But if the microbes encounter food they suspect to be dangerous, they somehow signal immune cells to take action. 
In a nutshell, it seems that your unique blend of microflora will respond when your diet is not what they want, triggering an inflammatory response. This process is like fire – a good servant when under control but a dangerously damaging agent when not contained.  Chronic inflammation is suspected to be behind many modern lifestyle diseases. 

Eat the ‘right’ foods for you, however, and your intestinal microbes will just quietly coexist with you happily. This could be the reason why people do best to the diet that is uniquely shaped for their needs.

One of the fatty acids the paper proposed as useful for keeping those microbes content is the omega-3 oils.  Modern western diets are woefully short in omega-3 rich foods. To help redress this balance ensure that your diet contains plenty of green vegetables (probably more than you eat now), seafood, nuts, seeds, olives and avocado.  


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Why flaxseed is your new best friend

Saturday, August 22, 2015

If it’s not already, flaxseed (linseed) is about to become your new best friend. It’s a super food for women particularly because it offers such a potent means of managing your hormone levels through your reproductive years and of safely mimicking those missing hormones after menopause.

Flaxseed contains a particular form of lignans (a natural plant chemical) called secoisolariciesinol. Lots of fruits, vegetables and legumes contain lignans, but flaxseed is particularly powerful because this lignan affects how your body metabolises oestrogen.

There are three different types of oestrogen: E1 (oestrone), E2 (oestradiol) and E3 (oestriol). Oestradiol is the one to keep an eye on as it is the most active and also the one associated with carcinogenesis. This is the variety of oestrogen that will appear on your medical blood tests. Salivary hormone testing is used to assess all three types.

Stay with me while I explain what happens when the oestrogen coursing through your body gets to your liver. Enzymes there break down the molecules into metabolites which can be removed from your body through urine and faeces. You can get an idea of how well your body is managing your oestrogen levels by measuring the urinary output of two of them: 2OHE1 and 16αOHE1. Basically you want more of the first and not too much of the latter. The presence of lignans in food helps your liver do this molecule breakdown job more effectively.

Flaxseed offers another benefit for postmenopausal women: It has phytoestrogenic properties. All that means is that the molecular structure of the food so closely resembles hormone molecules that your body is effectively hoodwinked into thinking you’ve got more good hormones, safely; exactly what you want after the post-menopausal estrogen drop that can accelerate aging, promote inflammation and depress your mood.

One study I reviewed added 25g of linseed every day to women’s diets; about two tablespoons, which seems excessive but they had somehow incorporated it into a muffin. Other ways you could include more linseed in your diet is through seed crackers or to grind the seeds and add to muesli, porridge or stewed fruit.

There’s two other good reasons to include more linseed in your diet. First, it’s a rich source of gentle fibre (7g in two tablespoons) and is also a good source of α-linolenic acid (ALA), one of those good fats we could all do with more of. So whether you’re balancing your hormones or helping maintain your health after menopause, flaxseed could be useful.

Olwen Anderson is a naturopath and counsellor. www. olwenanderson.com.au 

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Can vegetables be poisonous

Sunday, July 26, 2015
Poor kale. For the last couple of years it’s been the star of the vegetable family. Appearing in so many dishes, promoted as a super food. The adulation was immense; but like so many superfoods before it, kale has been pushed off its pedestal.

Kale’s repertoire of phytonutrients have been published widely, but what’s eroding that stellar reputation is the discoveries of a clinician who noticed that some clients were experiencing health issues despite an apparently healthy diet.  Turns out they were overdoing the kale.

One of the burgeoning trends recently has been green smoothies – the practice of shoving lots of greens into a blender and adding water to create a drink that can vary from a downright delicious and healthy pale green fruity concoction to a dark green funky looking drink.  You can ingest a huge amount of greens in a green smoothie.

The clinician at the heart of this phenomenon proposed that as a result of eating kale our bodies accumulate poisonous heavy metals; partly due to the pollution in our environment, however he believed that kale and some other greens especially accumulated this toxins.

His story sounds plausible at first; eat vegetables containing toxins and you’re likely to absorb them. But there are two aspects to this story to consider before you race to toss out the contents of your vegetable crisper. First, our livers and kidneys have the ability to cope with processing and disposal of small amounts of toxins, including heavy metals, providing you don’t ingest too much at once. Secondly, another explanation emerges as you follow the daisy chain of links back to the original article. The man who initiated this tsunami of panic about kale also sells the detoxification mechanisms to solve the problem.  Ah. And, his findings are not peer-reviewed research.

The real problem those clients were experiencing seems to be simple: over-consumption of particular foods. Green vegetables offer a huge range of health benefits, and many natural foods contain substances that aren’t good for us in large quantities. We’re not designed to consistently eat one vegetable month after month; mother nature arranged for different vegetables and fruits to be available as the seasons change. If you eat seasonally and arrange your diet for as much variety as possible it’s almost impossible to overdo any one vegetable.

There’s no need to stop eating your greens; instead, remember the nutritional mantra ‘moderation in everything with lots of variety is good’. I wonder what will be the next fashionable superfood?

If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy reading 'why its important to eat your greens', here


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Fast easy and sustaining breakfasts

Thursday, July 16, 2015
You know, intellectually, how important a good breakfast is. And yet you suspect the breakfast you’re preparing now just isn’t enough to help you get through a busy day doing what you love. Cereal or toast and coffee digests quickly. By 10am you’re hungry again, and if there isn’t enough time to stop for lunch then by 3pm you’re really in trouble: irritable, tired. But there’s still the evening to get through: preparing a healthy meal (if you have the energy) and re-connecting with your loved ones. Is there another way?

You know that a better breakfast with high quality protein, good fats and some complex carbohydrates is going to fuel you better; but how to make this happen? I’d like to offer some strategies to help you ease towards a better breakfast. You can pick and choose from these, or make up your own. A note of caution though: Because you’re changing a really well-established routine expect some inner struggle, anticipate that there will be crazy days when you forget completely. Just keep plugging away with it, tweak your strategies, and before you know it you’ll be feeling more energised and resilient through the day.

Strategy one (the easiest): Hard boiled eggs, avocado and toast or crackers. Before the week starts hard boil some eggs and store in the fridge (shells still on). In the morning slide bread into the toaster. While it’s browning shell and slice the egg. Then spread or slice the avocado onto the toast or crackers, top with the egg, and sprinkle with salt & pepper to taste. 

Strategy two (a little more time): Savoury mince on toast. Keep half-cup portions of cooked savoury mince (or leftover Bolognese sauce) in the freezer. In the morning just heat the mince and cook the toast. A dollop of tomato paste goes well with this.

Strategy three (more involved but worth it): Vegetable omelette. When you make the evening meal, cut and refrigerate a selection of vegetables like onion, capsicum, mushroom, zucchini. Leftover cooked pumpkin, sweet potato and carrot also. In the morning put the pan on to heat, pour in a little oil and fry the vegetables. While they’re cooking whisk a couple of eggs with a pinch of salt. Then pour the eggs over the vegetables, turn the heat down and cover. When the eggs set your omelette is ready.

Strategy four (my favourite): Make some home-made baked beans and freeze in portion sizes so they’re ready to heat for breakfast. While the beans are heating grate some zucchini with a little potato flour, salt and an egg, then fry as patties or as one big omelette-style pattie, turning when browned. Serve the patties topped with the beans.

These are just a few ideas to help you make a better breakfast a reality. By the way, the recipes for these yummy breakfasts are included in a meal plan I’ve developed. If you’d like to be handed a healthy meal plan that includes the list of what to eat, recipes, and even the shopping list, it’s ready for you. I designed it with busy people in mind who want to eat healthy but don’t have the time to create their own healthy meal plan. You can buy it on this web site - just head over to the shop tab.


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How menopause can dampen your mood

Friday, July 10, 2015
When I first began my working life in an office I came across some very scary women. To me (a 20-something newbie very wet behind the ears) they looked very old, but they were probably in their 50s. I bent over backwards to avoid encounters with them. They seemed perpetually grumpy, dissatisfied, resentful of younger women, often angry, and never smiled. Terrifying. What was wrong with them, I wondered?

As I’m now in my 50s, and with naturopathic training plus clinical experience under my belt, I can understand what those women were probably experiencing: peri-menopausal and menopausal depression. (At least I’d like to imagine it was this, and not that they just didn’t like me!)

If you’ve ever suspected that the female hormone estrogen has an undue influence on your moods, you’re right. The closer you get to menopause the more erratic your body’s estrogen production can become, and then after menopause it declines to just a fraction of what it was during your reproductive life. This can have a profound effect on your mood, and not in a good way.

In case you didn’t already know, here are some of the benefits we ladies get from estrogen from puberty onwards:

- It provides that feminine shape unique to women. Got curves? You can thank estrogen.

- Estrogen influences the neurotransmitters that help regulate your temperature and your sleep pattern (hence the hot flushes and disrupted sleep that comes with menopause)

- This hormone acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. (In short, it helps slow the aging process, and that’s why aging seems to accelerate after menopause.)

- The presence of estrogen improves your memory and concentration

- Estrogen also has quite a strong effect on your nervous system, including the hormone that boosts your mood, serotonin. In a nutshell, estrogen helps maintain your mood and cognition. Estrogen has a reputation as a neuroprotective substance.

It’s the last point on this list that informs about how much declining estrogen can affect your mood. Menopausal and peri-menopausal depression is a recognised phenomenon. As you near menopause your estrogen levels not only fluctuate more but decline, and with them goes that protection against mood disorders. Those women I found so hard to work with were probably affected by the depression that can land on you during the perimenopause.

Hooray for Mother Nature, who has provided plants that help regulate estrogen levels. There are many herbal remedies available to not only regulate your hormones but also to boost your mood, alleviating the depression that women are particularly susceptible to. A clinical naturopath (that's me, by the way) can help identify the right blend for you. 

If you’ve noticed your mood has dropped as you near the end of your reproductive life, it might not just be the psychological impact of aging; your hormones could be responsible, and a little re-balancing and boosting of your estrogen levels could help bring back your enjoyment of life. 

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'The Perils of Perimenopause'


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