Six ways to increase your energy

One of the most common reasons for people to see a naturopath is that they are really tired and lack energy. If you are feeling like this at the moment its important to understand why your energy is low but there are also several things you can introduce which may help improve your energy levels on a permanent basis.

The area of the body that produces energy is a component of each cell called a mitochondria, think of them like little factories. As we get older the number of mitochondria in the body can reduce, typically we see a halving of the levels between 20-40 and then again by the time we reach 70. These mitochondria can also be damaged by a range of environmental factors which means they don’t work as effectively and produce less energy.

There are a number of “hacks” which can improve both the number of these little factories and also the quality. Most people are aware of the benefits of regular exercise however they may not be aware that muscle cells will build more mitochondria as a result and they will operate more effectively. However often when people are really fatigued they are not in a position to exercise so these are my top six strategies for improving cellular energy. There are other strategies however this list focuses on those with minimal costs.

  1. Thirty minutes of daylight as close to waking as possible. This is an invaluable reset for your body’s circadian rhythms and helps you produce a reasonable amount of melatonin. Melatonin is important to generate sleep but turns out it also helps with cell repair and can improve energy. Literally one week of eating my breakfast outside followed by a short walk saw a significant improvement in my energy levels.
  2. Mild stressors for the body such as cold can improve energy quality. Its really important with this strategy to start with a very modest amount and slowly increase. A cold swim in a mountain stream might be the goal but start by having a minute or two of your shower with cold water. If you are very temperature sensitive start with it on your arms and legs and then gradually move to the trunk.
  3. Eat in a 11-12 hour window. Allow the bodies waste systems to function effectively by giving them a reasonable window to operate with. This is particularly important if you suffer from brain fog as a result of tiredness. This is really fairly straightforward and may just see you have breakfast at 8am and dinner at 7pm.
  4. Reduce your exposure to blue light from computers and devices. This could involve using blue light blocking glasses however a lower cost solution is as simple as switching off all devices at least one hour before your bedtime. Blue light blocks the production of melatonin and results in more difficulty in getting to sleep. Low melatonin will also reduce the ability of the mitochondria to repair themselves and result in a worsening of fatigue.
  5. Sleep in complete darkness using blockout curtains and turning off all lights and devices. Good quality sleep is essential for energy as cell repair happens during our deep REM cycles. Typically if you aim for 7-8 hours of sleep you will have between 3-5 REM cycles. Each cycle tends to be longer with the first being about 90 minutes. For more information on improving your sleep quality read my blogs on Can you build up sleep Pressure and Six Sleep Myths Debunked
  6. Reduce inflammation in your diet as much as possible. Chronic inflammation reduces your ability to produce energy in your cells. The first step could be avoiding any known allergens or intolerances and the second to try and ensure that you are having at least three cups of vegetables a day. For more information on reducing inflammation my blog on Post Viral Fatigue has some useful resources. More generally to understand which vegetables are most useful for your health What are the best vegetables for feeding your gut ?

There are also a range of strategies to improve energy using tailored diet plans and supplements however these need to be prepared in consultation with a practitioner to ensure that underlying triggers are identified and addressed.

Christine Pope is a naturopath and nutritionist based at Elemental Health at St Ives. You can make appointments on 02 8084 0081 on online at Elemental Health .

Post Viral Fatigue (and other symptoms)

Most people when they get sick usually find that after the initial illness they probably need to spend one or two days recovering and then they are fine to get on with their work and lives as per usual. For a small percentage after a virus they may find that they are slower to recover and what usually took a few days is now taking a few weeks or months. If you are finding that your recovery is much slower than usual it might be good to review some of the strategies recommended below and see if adopting these assists with your recovery.

There are three main areas to focus on in terms of post viral recovery, namely, rest, immune support and good quality nutrition. In addition if recovery is protracted its a good idea to check with your healthcare practitioner and ensure that there are no other factors which are contributing. For example its not uncommon for women suffering with anemia (low iron) to find it takes a long time to recover from an illness. Another factor that can be problematic is a history of glandular fever as people who have had this virus are more prone to developing post viral fatigue.

REST

Once upon a time when people had a serious illness there was this concept called convalescence. It was expected that people continued to rest and recover after an illness. In today’s world I tend to recommend streaming sessions, find a series online that you enjoyed and rewatch it. A series that you have watched before does not require as much concentration and you can doze on and off without affecting your viewing.

It also important to ensure that even when you feel well enough to return to work you schedule rest into your day, whether it’s a short nap on the couch if you are working from home or just making sure you get out for a break at lunchtime. In this era of constant busyness it can be very hard for people to cut down their workload to allow time for this but adequate rest post virus will reduce the amount of downtime you need.

You may also find that its useful to gradually return to exercise slowly. This might mean starting with short walks of ten minutes and building up gradually, rather than just returning to a full on gym or pilates session. If you are coping with short walks once a day then build to twice a day consistently. However if you do find that heading back to the gym wipes you out for a day or two, then its time to regroup and gradually build up again.

IMMUNE SUPPORT

If fatigue and other symptoms are continuing for a protracted period then its possible you have a low level of the virus continuing in your system. There are a number of options for supporting your immune system to enable it to recover. These could include anti-viral herbs as well as nutrients which support the immune system, such as Vitamin D, Zinc and Vitamin C. With Vitamin C aim for 500mg three to four times a day however with Zinc 25mg daily is a useful dose. It is helpful to know your Vitamin D levels before supplementing however 2-3 weeks of higher dose Vitamin D 2-4000 IU daily should be manageable for most people when recovering from a virus.

One useful option for supporting the immune system is medicinal mushrooms in particular supplements with Reishi, Cordyceps, Turkey Tail and Shitake being useful. These are often supplemented in powder form rather than consumed as mushrooms. If brain fog is problematic post virus then Lion’s Mane is useful for brain function, however it is also important to consider other key nutrient to support brain health including good quality fatty acids, such as fish, avocado and nuts and seeds.

GOOD QUALITY NUTRITION

An over looked area for recovery is diet. To really assist your immune system to work effectively its important to ensure that you are eating a wide range of vegetables and fruit, up to 30 different types in a week. Its really easy the first couple of days to build good variety but then we often have the same vegetables every two or three days. This recent blog provides you with a good range of options for feeding your microbiome as well as possible What are the best vegetables for feeding your gut ?

In addition to the three cups of vegetables a day make sure to include a small amount of protein as well as a couple of serves of carbohydrates, from potatoes, rice or grains. At this stage in recovery easily absorbed carbohydrates are quick sources of energy.

Depending on whether your stomach was affected you may find that its easier to start eating bland food initially and then gradually add more variety. Start with warm foods as it requires less digestive energy to break it down. This might include soups, steamed vegetables or casseroles if you are up to meal preparation.

For those who are struggling with thinking about what to cook there are a few blogs on the site meal plans Meal Plan Week One and Meal Plan Week Two could be a couple of options or if you would prefer lighter healthier foods then Spring Reset Meal Plan might be useful for you.

For more support with post viral illness book in an appointment with me at my St Ives clinic or online. Bookings are available through http://www.elementalhealth.net.au or on (02) 8084 0081.

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.