The high points of 2021

Lately I have had a song stuck in my head, not sure what its called, but I just remember the line – I fall asleep counting my blessings. So rather than making a bunch of New Year’s resolutions this year I prefer to reflect on the positives from 2021, both personal and professional ( and there were some!!).

First up for me was my son returning from Canada where he had decided to stay after the border closures in March, 2020. The return trip was a little fraught as he had had COVID a few weeks before departure. We were a little worried about him testing positive still and being unable to fly. At the point in time many flights were cancelled and friends of his had multiple attempts at getting home. Anyway lots of worry but at the end of the day turns out a flight on JAL when the Olympics was on was a good call. It kept to schedule and he made it home. Not only that but the flights were fairly empty and there was lots of room to spread out and sleep. Two weeks of hotel quarantine after he had already done two weeks of COVID isolation was a bit much for him but many care packs were delivered to his room. His sister organised technology to entertain him and we sent in food as well as recommending deliveries from Lettuce Deliver for in room salads.

Inevitably when he got home I was on a Board call on Zoom but pre-warned I just ran to the door and hugged him for a long time (and there were a few tears as well).

The protracted lockdown starting in June, 2021 came with new restrictions regarding your LGA and distances you could travel. This actually resulted in the family focussing on finding new walks as much as possible. Two big positives were finding some lovely walks in the Lane Cove National Park to add to our rotation and meeting a friend on a regular basis to walk around the Wildflower Gardens at St Ives. The weather through this lockdown fortunately was very favourable and we did improve our fitness levels overall.

Another big decision for me at the start of lockdown was continuing to do a weekly Pilates class with Village Pilates on Zoom. Initially I wasn’t convinced but it was a great decision to try it and it really gave my week structure as well as helping to maintain the fitness and balance that classes had already developed. The other benefit was having three other people to catch up with on a weekly basis and this led me to developing my own webinar series initially “Reset in Lockdown” and then a “Spring Reset”. Each week I really looked forward to the challenge of developing content and also the great questions each group asked. (If you want to listen to some of the content click here for the Reset and Recharge in Lockdown ).

Zoom or Microsoft Teams was also instrumental in giving me access to a range of Government consultations and meetings on behalf of my two Boards, COSBOA and the Australian Traditional Medicine Society. In one week I attended consultations on re-opening in three States and our CEO did a further consultation for Tasmania, something that would not have been possible before as physically I would have been unable to attend meetings in three different States. Online access really assisted in my advocacy efforts as it enabled me to participate in a much broader range of meetings than our association budgets would have enabled. Further it helped keep me sane as I love being able to assist in solving problems and working for small business and natural medicine.

The real eye opener for me about inclusion was in part due to an event I attended in early May as part of my COSBOA role. The National Innovation Games was in Newcastle where the theme was Inclusion 365: Navigating physical and digital worlds. For many people with disabilities COVID had opened up access to a broad range of events through digital access, as well as providing better access to medical services with the broader provision of telehealth. The National Innovation Games is a design and critical thinking challenge where teams work on real world challenges for businesses. In this Games we were working with the City of Newcastle to develop concepts to support disability access. The team I was working with developed a concept for an app which would provide information on the best path for someone to travel around Newcastle, incorporating real time updates from existing sources to advise of possible obstacles. We did come in second place although another team with a similar concept came first so we will claim equal first place.

Another personal highlight for me was being told by my daughter that she had referred to being brought up by a strong kick-ass woman. So I will finish the year on that high point. Strong women, may we be them and may we raised them.

Wishing you all the best for 2022, please share your highlights from 2021 in the comments.

Reduce your breast cancer risk

Attending an Integrative Oncology conference online in June 2021 was an interesting experience. The organiser provided an extensive program looking at treatment options and naturopathic support. One in three people will develop cancer at some point and improvements in testing and treatment have resulted in significant improvements in survival rates with those for breast cancer increasing from 75% to 91% over the past twenty years.

In addition to medical treatment there is also useful research on changes that can improve your survival risks and indeed may be useful preventative strategies, particularly if there is a history of breast cancer in the family. These strategies include diet, exercise , therapeutic foods and reducing alcohol consumption.

First up diet! During treatment doctors may advise that diet really doesn’t matter. Largely this is due to the concern that the nausea and lack of appetite resulting from chemotherapy or radiation treatment will result in significant loss of weight and you are less able to sustain treatment. At this stage maintaining kilojoules and weight is key. Post treatment however diet becomes critical.

What is the best diet for reducing your breast cancer risk ? Ideally a plant based whole food diet which still includes adequate amounts of protein from either animal or plant sources. Let’s consider the key components of this type of diet and how it may help.

Eat your vegetables

A wide range of vegetables is ideal and at least three cups of vegetables a day. There are four major reasons why vegetables are critical to good health;

  1. Vegetables provide a wide range of nutrients including key minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potassium.
  2. Vegetables are a good source of fibre for gut flora. The benefits of adequate fibre are significant as it feeds beneficial strains of bacteria in our gut.
  3. The fibre in vegetables which assist the body in processing our hormones down a less proliferative pathway.
  4. The fibre in vegetables results in a slow release of energy, which assists in maintaining blood sugar and a healthy weight range. Being significantly overweight or obese increases your risks.

In addition to vegetables a couple of serves of whole grains daily in the form of good quality sourdough or brown rice is also useful in terms of ensuring adequate fibre.

One to two serves of fruit

The polyphenols in fruit, like grapes, apples, pears , cherries and berries has been shown to be protective against many chronic diseases. Polyphenols are a component of plants that serve to protect them from ultraviolet radiation or infections. They are considered natural antioxidants and assist in both the treatment and prevention of cancer (1).

Adequate protein

A small amount of protein at each meal is essential for repair post surgery and treatment but also provides stable blood sugar. Ideally a palm size , palm width portion is sufficient. Wherever possible consider including plant based sources of protein , such as chickpeas, lentils and tempeh, nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds make an ideal snack to include daily as they are a powerhouse of nutrition with the benefit of incorporating healthy fats as well as essential minerals like zinc.

Add Therapeutic Foods

There are many foods which really have therapeutic effects outside of superfoods from the Amazonian rain forest. These include options such as green tea , cruciferous vegetables, flaxseed and turmeric. Through a range of pathways they are beneficial as they can assist in modulating genes which affect cell expression, growth and proliferation. Therapeutic foods may be helpful in that they can assist in reducing inflammation and support the development of tumour suppressor genes

  1. Green tea which contains useful polyphenols that can act as anti-oxidants in the body. From a preventative aspect the dosage of the active ingredient would result in you consuming up to four cups of green tea a day, preferably organic.
  2. Cruciferous vegetables which contains natural sulforaphane shown to slow down tumour growth and block the genetic mutations that lead to cancer in the first place. At least one cup a day of raw cruciferous vegetables which includes broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale and cabbage.
  3. Flaxseed, which contains beneficial omega 3 fatty acids and contains compounds that
    may reduce the body’s production of oestrogen. 1-2 Tablespoons a day is
  4. Turmeric, the most potent natural anti-inflammatory food on the planet; it is also many times
    more antioxidative than vitamin E.

Exercise regularly

One intervention that has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence by up to 55% is brisk walking of up to 2.5 hours a week. Exercise has the advantage of reducing inflammation but also assisting in the management of stress levels. Walking 30 minutes a day five days a week is enough to see a significant benefit it just needs to be at a pace where you can talk but not sing ! (2)

Reduce alcohol

The recommendation for alcohol consumption for women are 1-2 drinks a day however even at these levels it has been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer by 30-50%. (3) The equivalent of one standard drink a day increases risk by about 5%. Alcohol reduces the ability of the body to detoxify hormones and so it is particularly concerning with hormone receptive cancers.

So which intervention is more useful for you and your particular circumstances ? Not sure if it is my bias as a nutritionist but sorting out diet tends to make a significant impact and usually improves your energy so that you can increase your physical activity as well.

If you need assistance implementing changes or just want to check in on your current diet and supplements Christine is available on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at Elemental Health at St Ives and you can make appointments on 02 8084 0081. You can also book an online consultation on Zoom.

(1) Quideau S., Deffieux D., Douat-Casassus C., Pouységu L. Plant polyphenols: Chemical properties, biological activities, and synthesis. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2011;50:586–621. doi: 10.1002/anie.201000044.

(2) https://www.breastcancer.org/research-news/exercise-improves-survival-and-reduces-risk#:~:text=The%20researchers%20found%20that%20women,t%20meet%20the%20minimum%20guidelines

(3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3832299/

Can you build up sleep pressure?

Good quality sleep means that we can build up enough pressure to induce sleep. It is part of the equation with your circadian rhythm. If you are finding it difficult to get to sleep and stay asleep it may be that you haven’t build up enough sleep pressure.

What stops you building pressure to sleep? The major areas that you can influence are chronic pain, blue light, and stress. Age and genetics also play a part but these factors are less influenceable.

Chronic Pain affects your ability to get to sleep and stay asleep. Lack of sleep can also increase the risk that you develop a chronic pain condition. There are a number of natural medicine options in pain management however it will depend on what medications you are taking. Generally these conditions will be helped by regular gentle movement. Supplements which can be helpful include high strength fish oils, curcumin and PEA.

It can also be helpful to manage chronic pain with regular bodywork such as osteopathy or massage. If you are very sensitive it can be worthwhile to look at gentle treatments such as craniosacral therapy or lymphatic massage.

Most people seem to know that they shouldn’t use devices in bed but don’t necessarily realise that using the devices for up to 3 hours before bed may affect their sleep. How does it do that? At night the body increases its production of melatonin, this helps activate and maintain sleep. The blue light emitted by your device signals the brain that it is still daytime and can delay production of melatonin for 1-3 hours. Ideally stop using your phone or other device at least 1-2 hours before bed. Watching TV from a distance of up to 2 metres and looking away every 20 minutes can be a good way to reduce the impact.

Some non- pharmaceutical options for blue light exposure include wearing anber reading lenses two hours before bed which improved sleep quality after just a week. Getting morning sunlight has also been shown to be helpful in resetting the circadian rhythm. the nutrient lutein and Zeaxanthin assist in filtering blue light. These nutrients are found in green leafy vegetables and egg yolks.

Stress is of course another big area for interrupting sleep. Chronic long term stress elevates cortisol and can result in the pattern of early morning waking (4-5) and difficulty getting back to sleep. Stressors are different for different people but two of the most common concerns at the moment are unrewarding jobs and anxiety about health. Generally being in a job where your efforts are not rewarded can be a source of ongoing stress.

There are a number of stressors which result in a job being perceived as unrewarding and surprisingly its not about dollars for many people. A British study by Micheal Marmot found that cardiovascular risk as a marker for stress was not highest amongst those at the top but actually lower. It actually correlated with the amount of control that people had over their work and working environment. It is essential to build in processes that allow people flexibility in their work and increase their control as well as avoiding micro management. If you are in an environment where your work is subject to rigid control and micro management it can be worthwhile looking at whether changes can be made.

The second area of anxiety for many people is anxiety about health and this can be particularly acute when a “pandemic” is declared. Worse still with the media constantly triggering you with daily corona counting it can be difficult to stay calm. If this is affecting you generally staying off social media and looking at some routines to calm your brain such as meditation can be helpful. There are a couple of useful apps in this regards including Calm and my current favourite Gaia, which has a range of meditations as well as yoga classes. Still its ideal to do this a couple of hours before bed and avoid screen time before bed as recommended.

The other way to reduce your anxiety about health is to ensure all your regular health checks are up to date and there is no physical reason for the anxiety. For some people who may be prediabetic or insulin resistant difficulties with blood sugar can result in problems with sleep. It can be a good idea to not only get a fasting blood glucose test done annually but also consider whether a more comprehensive test like a 2 hour glucose tolerance test may provide more insight. Frequently in clinic the problems are early stage and occurring at the one to two hour mark.

Reducing caffeine intake and incorporating some carminative herbs can also be useful and you could substitute some calming chamomile tea or peppermint tea as an alternative. These teas before bed could assist in improving sleep pressure.

For more information about sleep have a look at 6 Sleep Myths Debunked .

Christine Pope is a naturopath and nutritionist based at Elemental Health St Ives. If you would like more help with identifying the causes of your poor quality sleep and modifying them you can book in for appointments on 02 8084 0081.

Upskilling and recharging

Spending time at home gives you the opportunity to try things that you may have been wanting to try but may never had the time.  One of my goals is to meditate daily and work my way through all the webinars I signed up for but never got the time to watch. Below are a few ideas to keep you occupied over the next few weeks whilst nurturing mind, body & spirit.

Take an Online course

There are lots of online courses available to cater for every need. TAFE NSW is currently offering 21 courses free of charge.  These range from business administration through to e marketing and are aimed at upgrading skills and giving a qualification which can be used to get back into the workplace.  Further information can be found at Tafe NSW Fee Free Courses .

Coursera offers a range of courses from business and universities, some of which are free.  These are mainly IT and technology based.

Khan academy offers short videos on a range of subjects from mathematics, science through to history.  These are informative and very easy to follow.

Udemy also offers a wide range of short courses free of charge.

Exercise

Staying physically active is important not only for cardiovascular health but also for flexibility.  If you are not used to exercise, then it is important to start with postural exercise to prevent injury.  If you use Instagram then #Move U have some good stability demonstrations.  If you are looking for classes then the Les Mills app is great for classes ranging from Bodypump through to Bodyjam which is a dance type class. F45 in Mona Vale are live streaming HITT classes but do require a membership.  Conny Pulvermacher is livestreaming Yoga classes from The Yoga Room at St Ives have a look at the timetable and see what works for you.

Get Google Arts and Culture

Google arts and Culture, allows you to take virtual tours of some of the top museums, galleries and theatres of the world.  So whether you want to visit  the Natural History museum in London or the teatro bibiena then try Arts and Culture google.

Meditate

Life at the moment can leave many of us feeling stressed, anxious and overwhelmed not knowing what the future will bring.  Meditation and mindfulness apps can help aid in relieving some of these feelings.  Puregym gives a good summary of some of the more popular mindfulness apps. My personal favourite is Gaia which offers you the option to choose the length as well so I have a favourite 12 minute meditation.

Ferment

Fermented foods are great for gut health and general wellbeing, but can be quite expensive.  They include Kombucha, Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Kefir and a whole range more.  Each different type of ferment has a different array of friendly bacteria.  Once you get the hang of them they are very simple to create and quite addictive to make.  If you would like to know more then Holly Davis has written a beautiful book called Ferment.  She also has some beautiful recipes on her website .

Learn a language

There are a number of free online language courses available so if you have ever thought you would like to expand your lingual skills try these websites.

French http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/french/

Spanish http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/spanish/

Italian http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/italian/

Go to the Theatre

Whilst we can’t travel overseas one advantage of the current situation is that theatres are opening up production libraries to enable us to have the experience from the comfort of home. Time Out has produced a list of productions with streaming options in New York and London and Sadler Wells dance company is offering a range of shows free online as well .

Christine Pope is a naturopath and nutritionist based at Elemental Health at St Ives. You can make appointments for an online consultation currently but she will be back in her clinic at St Ives from 1 May.