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Olwen Anderson's Blog

Say Goodbye To The Cystitis Bugs

Tuesday, November 04, 2008
If you’ve ever been affected by a bladder infection, (also known as cystitis), you’ll probably remember vividly the pain and discomfort associated with it. Hopefully it cleared within a few days. For some women however, life is one cystitis attack after another, requiring constant treatment with prescription medication like antibiotics.

Our female anatomy makes us more likely to develop cystitis. The tube (urethra) leading from the bladder to outside the body is shorter than in males, and our urethral opening is perilously close to the anus. This can give bacteria an easy journey towards the bladder.

In chronic cystitis, bacteria have set up a comfortable home in the bladder, and find themselves in ideal conditions for breeding. If you suffer from chronic cystitis, or if you want to help yourself recover faster from a bladder infection, here are some tips:

Create The Right Conditions

Cystitis bacteria love acidic, sugary urine. By increasing the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet, and reducing sugar and grain-based foods like bread and biscuits, you’ll be making your urine less acidic and sugary, more alkaline.

Flush Them Out!

Although its probably painful to urinate, drinking at least three litres of pure water a day during an acute attack will help literally flush out the bacteria. By the way, drinking black tea can make the infection worse, as tea can sometimes irritate your bladder. And it makes your urine more acidic.

Bring On The Good Bugs

Curiously, making sure there are good bacteria in your intestine will help your body resist cystitis. Four dessertspoons of good quality fresh plain yoghourt every day will help keep your intestinal bugs happy. During an acute attack, probiotics tablets may help.

Love Those Cranberries

Cranberry juice is an old remedy for cystitis – but a good one. A small glass of pure cranberry juice every day is a good practice for chronic cystitis sufferers. A natural therapist can supply you with cranberry extract capsules if you don’t like cranberry juice.

Physical Barriers

Some women find that emptying their bladder after sex helps flush out bacteria that have made their way into the urethra. Also, when wiping after a bowel motion, always make sure you wipe from front to back, to prevent any bacteria being wiped towards your vagina and urethra.

..and Relax!

Feeling stressed will dampen down your immune system, making it more likely you will develop an acute attack of cystitis. 

Remember that if you’re suffering from an acute or chronic bladder infection you may need professional help to get rid of it completely. But these tips will help you manage your bladder health better.

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Managing Gout

Monday, November 03, 2008
Did you ever try the school science experiment of dangling a string in a saturated solution and returning a few days later to find that crystals had formed on the string? Hold that image in your mind as you read on, as it will help you understand how gout develops – 

Gout, or gouty arthritis, usually appears in men over 40 years old. Commonly, the first a man knows about it is when he’s woken during the night with excruciating pain in his big toe. Often he can’t bear to have anyone touch the toe, or tolerate even the weight of bedding. Eventually the pain goes away. As the disorder progresses over the years, these ‘attacks’ of gout can become more frequent, last longer, and joints can start to deteriorate. Some men develop ‘tophi’, little lumps on the edges of their ears – this is a form of gout too.

The whole gout problem is a disorder of  how the body handles uric acid. This acid is produced from the normal metabolic processing of purines, a naturally occurring substance in food, but people with gout have trouble getting rid of it.

Usually the kidneys filter out excess uric acid and eliminate it. A person with gout could be over-producing uric acid, or not eliminating enough of it, or a combination of both. But if too much uric acid accumulates in the bloodstream, it has to go somewhere - crystals will tend to form and clump together. Unfortunately, they usually form in cooler areas with low circulation, like the joints of the big toe or the edges of the ears. 

When urate forms crystals around a joint, it sets up an inflammatory reaction, resulting in extreme pain, and the production of more damaging molecules.  If the inflammation isn’t cleared away (that is, if urate crystal formation continues), the joint will start to deteriorate. Over time, the acute episodes of pain can become more frequent and last longer. 

Although this disorder is partly inherited, most people with gout tend to have a diet high in acid-forming foods and alcohol, and low in water consumption.  

Naturopaths sometimes classify foods into ‘acid-forming’ and alkaline-forming’ due to the effect they tend to have on the pH of the body. No prizes for guessing, the good, alkaline-forming diets are those high in unprocessed foods, low in fat and with a moderate level of protein. Acid-forming diets on the other hand, tend to be high in alcohol, coffee, black tea, red meat and processed foods.

Naturopathic treatment of gout includes change towards an alkaline-forming diet; excluding foods which tend to promote the formation of uric acid, and increasing water consumption to promote elimination through the kidneys. Why more water? Think back to that school experiment I mentioned earlier – a more dilute solution makes it harder for crystals to form. 

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Endless Varieties Of Salad In Seven Easy Steps

Sunday, November 02, 2008
Summer is suddenly here, and our taste buds naturally start seeking out cooler, fresher foods. Here’s a great opportunity for you to get more raw food in your diet, particularly in the form of salad. Its easy to prepare a different salad every day when you know the basics. 

Raw vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, full of water soluble vitamins which can be destroyed by cooking. Naturopaths know that fresh raw food has more ‘life force’, which means better nutrition and more energy for you.

Of course the same salad ingredients every day can get boring, so here’s the magic formula for making endless variations, depending on what’s in season, what’s in your fridge and what’s in your garden. You’ll be limited only by your imagination.

1. First the base – leafy greens. You can buy interesting mixes of salad greens at the supermarket or vegie market. Use the more strongly flavoured greens like rocket if you’re going to use strongly flavoured toppings, and softer greens if you don’t want to overwhelm the subtler toppings.

2. Next, choose a protein, such as tuna, salmon, chicken, beef, egg, legumes or tofu. For a ‘warm’ salad, just use the meat or egg when its still warm from cooking. 

3. Add something crunchy – like capsicum, zucchini, cucumber, green beans, bean sprouts, or cherry tomatoes. Along with the greens, the crunchy ingredients should create the bulk of your salad, so be generous.

4. Add something creamy – like avocado, or leftover roast pumpkin, or a soft cheese – or your dressing could be of the ‘creamy’ variety.

5. Something tangy – like olives or feta cheese.

6. Something special – like a sprinkle of nuts, or freshly snipped herbs from the garden

7. Finally, add a dressing. It can be as simple as a splash of balsamic vinegar, or a squeeze of lemon juice; or something creamy, like yoghourt. My personal preference is to use oily accompaniments like olives or nuts rather than an oil-based dressing, but whatever you choose, a delicious dressing is an important finishing touch.

Here are some possible flavour combinations to get you started:
Tuna, white beans, olives
Chicken, asparagus, lemon juice, avocado
Marinated beef strips (cooked), capsicum, bean sprouts, rocket
Tofu, green beans, cashews, tamari-based dressing

If you’re eating away from home, an easy way to include a salad in your diet every day is to choose a salad sandwich. Just make sure it includes some protein, for sustained energy levels.

Buy organic foods currently in season if you can – they’re better tasting and better for you. If you’ve got space for a garden or herb patch, picking your salad vegies from your own garden is heavenly. Or its easy to grow some herbs or sprouts on your kitchen windowsill.

Happy salad days!

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Bad Breath

Saturday, November 01, 2008
It’s the problem even your closest friends have trouble mentioning.  Excuse me ………but your breath ……well ………’s not too sweet!

Bad breath can originate from several places in the body, but wherever it comes from, its all about bacteria.

1. Teeth or gums in bad condition, particularly teeth that need filling, are a breeding ground for some very odorous bacteria. If you haven’t had a dental check up for a while, or don’t floss regularly, this is the place to start your investigation.

2. One of the most common causes of bad breath however is what’s happening in the intestines. People with bad breath are often constipated. Generally speaking, you should have a bowel movement every day. If you don’t, take a look at some aspects of your diet:

- are you drinking enough pure water? (You need at least two litres every day)
- are you eating enough fibre? (You need 25-35g every day, from vegetables especially)
- Are you relaxed? Muscle tension from stress, particularly emotional stress, can affect the bowel muscles, and the production line that is our digestive process comes to a halt.

An effective way to check your bowel transit time is to eat some cooked beetroot – about 200-300g. The beetroot will colour your faeces, but won’t harm you. Ideally, you’ll see the results within 12-24 hours. Less than 12 hours means your bowels are too fast, more than 24 hours is too slow. (Keep in mind that beetroot will colour your urine temporarily red too.)

3. Intestines are heavily populated with bacteria – some are good, actively helping the digestive process along. Some bacteria are not so helpful. In an unhealthy bowel, the conditions are right for bad bacteria and fungi can grow unchecked. If digested food remains too long in your digestive tract fermentation starts, creating some very unpleasant smells.

Naturopaths approach the treatment of bad breath originating in the intestines like you would approach an overgrown garden – where there are unwanted weeds all over the place, and the conditions aren’t right for the good plants to grow. But get rid of the weeds, and improve the soil and feeding, then the good plants will bloom. The right herbs and probiotics bacteria are the tools we use.

A final test – have a look at your tongue in the mirror. Is it heavily coated with fur, particularly yellow fur?  If so, it’s probable that your metabolism is out of shape and your liver is struggling. This can contribute to bad breath too.

A cup of peppermint tea can help mask any bad breath, but if you’ve developed this unfortunate condition, its time to start investigating where it has come from.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'If Your Gums Could Talk'

Image credit: Duboix via MorgueFile

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How To Be An Informed Health Consumer

Friday, October 31, 2008
You’re keen to improve your health, so you probably try to obtain as much information as possible. But how do you decide what is worth reading and what isn’t? And how do you assess whether the information you find is worthwhile? Here's your five point checklist: The way to sift out what is accurate, what you really want to know, and what can be left unread.

When assessing any article about health news, doing research on the internet, or listening to a health-related message, applying these tests will help you decide:

  1. What is the message being delivered – is it just information, are you being urged to do particular things, or buy certain products?
  2. What are the qualifications of the person providing the information? Do you think these qualifications are adequate for the kind of information they’re providing? 
  3. Does the article talk at length about a particular product or brand? If so, the ‘information’ could be thing more than an advertisement.
  4. Beware of emotionally loaded language. Heart-rending stories can influence you a lot, particularly if the story closely matches your experience. Information which generates fear should be assessed sceptically, as inciting fear is a well-used advertising ploy.
  5. Look at how the information has been gathered. Is it the result of a planned research project? Are you informed how the research was done, and how many people were studied? Obviously, information about a product that helped your girlfriend’s mothers’ cousin’s neighbour does not qualify as ‘research’!

‘Evidence based’ is a term which is widely used, and there are different types: ‘Clinical Evidence’ is the result of real life experience. In short, “we have tried it and it works”. Clinical evidence is strongest when it has been gathered over a long period of time, and with a large group of people.

Research papers are published after tests are carried out on large groups of people or animals, often with ‘blind’ or ‘double blind’ methods. This ensures that no-one knows whether they are getting the placebo or the substance being tested, and so results are more objective. It’s not uncommon for different research projects on the same subject to produce opposing results, which promotes much debate in the scientific community – and more research. 

There is real-life testing and artificial testing: ‘In Vitro’ means that the testing has been carried out in an artificial environment, such as a test tube. ‘In Vivo’ means that the testing has been carried out on a living body.

So, the next time you come across information about a particular disease, hear a health news item or read a health-related article, apply these simple tests and you’ll become a more informed health consumer.

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Sunday morning snack: Almond and apple muffins

Friday, October 31, 2008

These are dairy free, and don't need oil or butter added to the mix because the almond meal is naturally high in fat. Very high in fat – try not to enjoy too many!

Ingredients for four muffins
1/2 cup almond meal
1/2 cup wheat flour or gluten-free flour mix
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 green apple, grated
1 tablespoon sultanas
1 egg
1 tablespoon maple syrup
soy milk, enough to make mixture runny - about 1/2 cup


  1. Mix the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients in separate mixing bowls
  2. Add the wet to the dry ingredients and stir just long enough for everything to mix.
  3. Spoon into large muffin cases
  4. Top with whole almonds or walnuts for a luxe effect
  5. Bake 25 minutes at 180 degrees centigrade
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Four Ways To Reduce Your Blood Pressure

Thursday, October 30, 2008
Is your blood pressure a little too high? Here are some natural ways to reduce it and avoid being prescribed anti-hypertensive medication.

One of the main reasons blood pressure can become chronically elevated is from lack of flexibility in your artery walls. Your arteries include a layer of smooth muscle, which expands a little with each surge of blood from your heartbeat, then contracts again. As you age, your muscles can become less flexible, along with your artery muscles.

There are two minerals that can help your muscle flexibility: calcium and magnesium. Calcium helps muscles contract, magnesium helps them relax. Both these minerals are readily available in seafood and in green leafy vegetables. Remember that calcium and magnesium in your food compete for absorption across your digestive tract – so if you decide to take a supplement of calcium, you may need to take a magnesium supplement to balance it, and vice versa. Not sure if you're deficient in magnesium? You can arrange a pathology test through your clinical naturopath to find out.

Scientists have researched the effect of additional dietary fibre on blood pressure, and given it the 'thumbs up'. We all need between 25g and 35g of fibre in our diet every day. Most of us fall well below this. Psyllium husks are a good supplement to take while you change your diet to one higher in legumes, fruits and vegetables. One tablespoon of Psyllium husks will supply you with 5g of fibre.

There are some extra changes you can make to your diet that will have an impact on your blood pressure: Mainly, reduce (or eliminate) processed food. It contains lots of added salt (which tends to increase blood pressure) and supplies very little nutrition. You'll be pleased to hear that a little red wine (just one small glass!) and a little dark chocolate (just two squares!) is actually good for you.

Specific foods that help lower blood pressure include garlic, ginger and onion. Seafood, walnuts and flaxseed (linseed) are also great additions to your diet as they contain omega-3 oils to promote cell membrane flexibility. You should avoid taking supplements of licorice or ginkgo biloba, as these tend to increase blood pressure.

Did you get a little hot under the collar the last time you felt stressed? Our bodies have evolved to increase our blood pressure when stressed. Originally this was to help us escape from hungry predators on foot. In modern times our stressors tend to be ongoing, and not related to a physical threat. Learning to alter your stress response through regular fitness training and through stress reducing activities like yoga and meditation will reduce your blood pressure too. Actually, its hard to overstate the huge physical and psychological benefits you'll get from regular physical exercise.

So, now you know what to do: Check your calcium and magnesium intake, increase the amount of fibre in your diet, exercise daily and make sure you relax too. Good luck!

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Breakfast of Champions

Thursday, October 30, 2008
Does your breakfast carry you right through your morning tasks? Or are you ravenous by 10am, keen for something sweet with coffee to keep you going? Our cultural breakfast habits have altered over recent decades, with the main meal of the day becoming less substantial. Its time to start choosing a healthier alternative if you want to keep your energy level high all day.

By the time you wake up, you haven’t eaten for over eight hours. Your body is ready for a substantial meal to provide slow release energy over the coming active hours. A small bowl of famous brand name cereal with milk, alas, probably isn’t going to keep you going until lunchtime.

There’s an easy way to make sure your breakfast is enough to give you a slow, steady and sustained rise in your blood sugar level. The breakfast of champions is high in fibre, high in protein, and has a small amount of fat. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Baked beans on toast – high in fibre, with protein too, beans are easy to heat up. For a fast meal on the go, use a toasted sandwich maker to create a baked bean jaffle. Other great toppings for toast include mushrooms (high in fibre and vitamins) poached or scrambled eggs (high protein), or sardines (great for an omega-3 boost.)

Got a bit more time available? Why not create an omelette, filled with capsicum, tomato, mushroom and zucchini. This can easily be made in one pan if you cook the vegies first, move them to a warmed plate, then cook the omelette, filling and folding it just before serving.

On the weekends you might like to make something really spectacular: Kangaroo sausages (high in protein, low in fat) or lambs kidneys plus a selection of vegetables like mushroom, tomato, onion, wilted silverbeet – whatever vegies you have on hand that appeal. Just one caution – save the bacon for an occasional treat, its highly processed and very fatty food.

A substantial breakfast is ideal for people reducing their weight too. It makes sticking to your diet for the rest of the day much easier – no overwhelming food cravings.

Are you one of those people who ‘can’t eat breakfast’? Before you give up on breakfast completely, halve the portion size of your evening meal. A smaller meal at night might be just what you need to get your body back into sync with breakfast. Until then, have something light – even if its just half an orange cut into wedges, or a small tub of yoghourt.

Feeling inspired about breakfast now? Remember that new good habits take a while to integrate into your routine, so start simple and go from there. You’ll know when you’ve got the breakfast balance right – morning tea becomes just a top up, you’re hungry but not ravenous by lunch, afternoon tea is another top up and you look forward to a light evening meal.

You can download an e-book of ideas for protein breakfasts from this site. Just return to the home page and look for the breakfast egg button!

Enjoy the breakfast of champions and feel good right through the day.

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The Vitamin You Can Absorb Through Your Skin

Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Ever wondered why vitamin E is so often available as a vitamin E cream? And why this is such a valuable nutrient for the health of your cells? Read on and I'll explain.

Because vitamin E is so widely available in food its unusual to encounter someone with a frank deficiency, although this vitamin is often used therapeutically by naturopaths as a supplement (usually alongside other nutrients).

This is one of the rare vitamins that you can absorb through your skin and mucous membranes, hence its popularity as an ointment. Once in your body, one of the main tasks of vitamin E is to help preserve the health of your cell membranes by acting as an antioxidant.

Your cell membranes are actually made up of fat molecules joined together by miniscule magnetic attraction, rather like oil floats on the top of water. These membranes are vulnerable to attack by free radicals, (molecules missing an electron who can damage cell membranes). A good supply of Vitamin E in your body can prevent these free radicals from causing damage to your cell membranes.

Vitamin E has a reputation as a free radical scavenger and oxidation-preventer in other parts of your body too. Within the gastrointestinal tract, it prevents vitamin A from being oxidised before absorption. High quality fish oil (omega 3) supplements routinely contain vitamin E, to prevent oil in the capsules from going rancid.

Although vitamin E supplements are sometimes used to promote cardiovascular health, or as an antioxidant, it is very popular as an ointment. It can slow premature aging of skin, and help heal damaged skin tissue and scars.

The best way to obtain your vitamin E is from food. There are several different varieties of vitamin E (tocopherols). Obtained from food, vitamin E will contain all the tocopherols, plus added nutrients. Vitamin E capsules may contain only one tocopherol of the vitamin (usually the alpha version), and may be synthetic. Yet another reason to focus on improving your nutrition with high quality food rather than taking supplements.

The best food sources of vitamin E are cold pressed oils, eggs, sunflower seeds, offal, molasses, peanuts, soy beans and lima beans.

If you are taking a vitamin E supplement, check the label: Natural vitamin E's technical names are preceded with d- (e.g d-alpha-tocopherol). Synthetic vitamin E will be labelled as dl- (e.g dl-alpha-tocopherol). Although cheaper to produce, synthetic vitamin E is not absorbed as easily as its natural cousin.

Now you know why vitamin E is so valuable, including for your skin, consider buying a tub of vitamin E-enriched body lotion next time you're shopping.

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Try A Vegan Meal And Spice Up Your Life!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008
After last week’s column where we focussed purely on meats, it seems only fair to devote this week’s column to the joys of vegan eating. If you’re a meat eater, your meal planning probably revolves around selecting the meat first, then the vegetables or salad to go with it. You might want to step occasionally into a whole new food world – vegan cookery.

Here’s an idea – try making one family dinner during the week ‘vegan night’ and prepare a healthy vegan meal. This has lots of health benefits for you – 

- More variety: You’ll be trying out some different foods, increasing the variety in your diet.
- More nutrients: Vegan food is high in fibre, legumes, vegetables and fruit – all great sources of vital nutrients.
- Less fat: A vegan diet is naturally low in saturated fat.
- Something new: You can experience some different non-animal protein sources. Often these are exotic foods from different cultures where vegan food is a natural part of their culture. 

Vegan food excludes all animal protein sources, obtaining all protein from plants. (Vegetarian food excludes animal meat and fish, but usually includes animal protein from egg and dairy sources.)

Everyone needs protein, so vegetarians have to be careful to obtain enough protein in their diet to stay healthy. Vegans need to be particularly vigilant to ensure they reach the target of 0.8g of protein per kg of their ideal weight. (For example, a person with an ideal weight of 70kg needs 56g of protein every day). But if you’re eating vegetarian/vegan only one or two times a week, you don’t need to be quite so vigilant.

Animal protein sources already contain complete proteins. To form ‘complete’ protein, a vegan meal should include legumes with nuts or seeds, or legumes with grains. Or all three – legumes, grains and nuts/seeds. Each food type contributes some of the essential amino acids. Put together they form ‘complete’ protein. 

Here are some ideas to help you get started with interesting vegan food:

- asian stir fry of marinated tofu (legume), vegetables and noodles (grain)
- curry of chick peas (legume) and vegetables served with rice (grain). Sprinkle with some toasted cashews to serve
- eggplant and bean (legume) and vegetable stew served on a bed of cous cous (grain)
- Indian Dahl (legume) and rice (grain) with vegetables or salad on the side.
- Spicy laksa soup of tofu (legume), vegetables and soft hokkein noodles (grain).

You can find vegan recipe books at the local library or bookstores for some more ideas. Indian and asian recipe books will naturally include many vegan recipes. Add some variety and spice to your diet this week with a vegan meal or two!

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