Microbiome or genome – what tells you more?

shutterstock_609019046What tells us more about your risk of developing a disease, DNA or your microbiome? The explosion of DNA testing has meant that we have developed much more knowledge about an individual’s DNA. It’s also clear that simply having a particular gene or a snip does not mean you will necessarily develop the relevant condition. Our DNA is the terrain but the environment is the trigger.

The microbiome on the other hand can tell us more about whether the environment is triggering a condition. Microbial diversity is more critical to health. Loss of diversity seems to have a more negative impact on health and an overgrowth of particular strains of bacteria can also contribute to a higher risk of developing chronic diseases.

Cholesterol is a good example. Looking at the risk factors for cholesterol levels close to 50% is derived from your underlying genetics and 50% from your microbiome. A good diet which increases microbial diversity can make all the difference to your cardiovascular risks. In fact the microbiome strongly influences many of our metabolic risks including factors such as fasting glucose, lactose intolerance and waist circumference.

The bacteria in our gut enable exert their effects by the production of key metabolites. Certain gut bacteria can control the production of these metabolites and therefore significantly influence our function. An example of this is Bifidobacterium lactis. It increases the production of short chain fatty acids in the bowels. These activate the vagal nerve and signal that we feel full. So a deficiency of Bifidobacterium lactic can mean that we don’t have that signal working quickly and therefore we are prone to overeating.

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In conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Osteoarthritis and Ankolysing Spondylitis the gut bacteria is often low in strains that produce a metabolite called butyrate. It is often the case that the microbiome has an elevated level of Prevotella Copri or another problematic strain. That is why treatment needs to be focused as much on rebalancing the microbiome to support the strains that are healthy and to crowd out the problematic strains. Prebiotic fibres such as Saccharomyces cerevisiae (Boulaardi) can be a useful part of treatment. The other critical factor is to ensure that you are feeding the microbiome and my blog on 6 Tips for feeding your gut bacteria right! is a useful guide.

There is still a lot of emerging research in this area so please follow my blog to see the latest updates.

Christine Pope is a naturopath and nutritionist based at Elemental Health at St Ives in Sydney. If you think your microbiome needs some attention you can make an appointment online at http://www.elementalhealth.net.au or phone on 8084 0081.

 

 

Climate Change – what can you do?

During the recent election there was a lot of debate about climate change and the need to take action. It is an overwhelming issue for any one person to deal with on their own. What I thought might help is to break it down into smaller tasks and see what you can do to reduce your carbon consumption. In the last 18 months Australians have reduced consumption of plastic bags by 1.5 billion bags so I am sure collectively we can make some reasonable changes.

First up where are the big contributors to greenhouse emissions – well it depends a little bit on your source but according to Austalian government data

transport is a major contributor to emissions.

How do we reduce reliance on gas guzzling cars ? My top four suggestions are as follows:

  1. Use public transport where possible. Ever since they dug up George St for the light rail I have found driving into town a nightmare. Roads are blocked off and its really hard to find places to cross over. Consequently my entire family now uses the train consistently and its really reduced the mileage in our cars significantly. Look at bus routes too it is so easy now with the Opal card to jump on a bus for short distances.
  2. Consider whether you really need a second car (which is an expensive cost in terms of depreciation, insurance and registration etc) and whether you could use taxis or Ubershutterstock_1216160155 particularly if you live close to where you work. If you really only use a car intermittently have a look at services like Go-Get for short term use or hire a car for bigger trips.
  3. Walk more! On Sundays we walk to a local coffee bar with the dog and pop in and buy a few things at Harris Farm. More steps for us and lower use of the car.
  4. Invest in the latest energy efficient vehicle , whether its an electric car or a hybrid like the Honda Civic.
  5. Put the kids on the bus to school. Traffic on the North Shore is chaotic in the mornings and part of that is due to the number of children who are driven to school. Due to the fact that many parents are unaware of bus services to school they don’t use them and then it becomes increasingly difficult to justify the service. 40 kids on a bus is much less problematic than 40 parents individually driving children to school.

What’s next? If you have already adopted as many of those options that are affordable probably the next area to look at in reducing your carbon footprint is food. Agriculture is responsible for around 16% of carbon emissions and the biggest part of that is methane from livestock accounting for in excess of 50%.

  1. Reduce your consumption of meat and other animal products. I am not recommending that you adopt veganism however it may well be worthwhile looking at making vegetables the star of your dinner table and meat more of a condiment.
  2. Look at more than just a Meat Free Monday – ideally look at vegetarian proteins like chickpeas, tofu and other legumes as well as cheese or eggs to make up your protein requirements. This also makes a much more affordable diet than relying heavily on meat.shutterstock_158785211
  3. What can you grow at home ? Whether its simply some herbs or fruit, most people can grow things they use regularly like lemons or mint or rosemary. It all helps reduce the amount of transport used for shipping food as well as food miles.
  4. See if you can buy produce locally as there are now lots of farmers markets or organic markets on offer.

Another way to reduce your carbon footprint is to look at reducing plastic use in your home. My recent blog on Quitting Plastic has some straightforward ideas.

How are you planning on reducing your footprint ?  Post in the comments section to share your ideas.

Christine Pope is an experienced natural medicine practitioner based at Elemental Health, St Ives. You can make appointments on 8084 0081 or online at http://www.elementalhealth.net.au .

Dinner for the next 2 weeks

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Imagine how much better we would all eat if we had a chef shopping and cooking for us. If we didn’t need to think about what to cook and whether we had the ingredients but simply show up and eat. It sounds ideal doesn’t it ? This isn’t really a solution for most of us so I would recommend a few ways to reduce the mental load and make it a little easier to shop and cook without having to waste too much time and energy in the process.

Setting up a two week menu that you rotate with a few seasonal adjustments can be a good tool. The menu below if what I am currently working around. Ideally one night’s meal becomes a second meal reheating leftovers or reusing some of the ingredients. Here is a sample 2 week menu you can then adjust based on your own preferences (you get one night off a week for a meal out or takeaway).

Week One

Monday Easy Carve leg of lamb with roast vegetables (potatoes, pumpkin, parsnip or carrots depending on the season) and greens (steamed beans or blackened asparagus).

Tuesday Leftover lamb from roast as Lamb Biriyani or Shepherd’s Pie. Click here for an easy recipe from the Fuss Free Foodie with a couple of easy cheats.

Wednesday Turkey with Sweet Potato and Snow Peas served with rice

Thursday Vegetable Curry with Sausages or Lentils

Friday Grilled Salmon with Stir Fry Greens (see recipe below)

Saturday Asparagus and Mushroom risotto (or Spring Vegetables or Cauliflower and Peas) Leftovers make good risotto cakes for Sunday lunch with a green salad.

Week Two

Monday Easy Roast Chicken with roast vegetables (use thigh cutlets and layer on the roast vegetables with lemon juice, rosemary, olive oil and rock salt – 50 minutes for the cutlets to cook and then crisp off the vegetables for a further 10 at 180C.

Tuesday Spaghetti Bolognaise

Wednesday Leftover Lasagne Bake with a Cos salad

Thursday Cauliflower and Chicken Curry with Steamed Rice (or better yet a bed of steamed spinach).

Friday San Choy Bow with Stir Fried Greens (scroll down for the recipe)

Saturday  Grilled Steak with bay seasoned potatoes and roasted broccoli and cauliflower.

Stir Fry Greens

2 bunches of broccolini or 400g of broccoli cut into florets

2 bunches of bok choy

1/2 cup of bone broth or stock

1/2 cup soy sauce

1-2 Tablespoons of sweet chilli sauce

Combine liquid ingredients in a jug. Heat a small amount of oil in a wok and then add broccolini and stir fry for 1-2 minutes. Add liquid ingredients and bok choy and heat through and stir fry on a low heat for 10 minutes. Serve.

Turkey mince bolognaise

750g turkey mince (other mince works well too)
1 brown onion finely chopped
2 carrots peeled and diced
1 jar of passata (chopped tomatoes)
1 glass of red wine or beef stock
1 tsp chili (optional)
2 cloves garlic crushed

In a little olive oil saute onions and carrots on a low heat for a few minutes until onions are soft. Add mince, continue cooking until mince is browned and then add remaining ingredients and simmer for twenty to thirty minutes. Serve with pasta and a little grated Parmesan cheese.

Lasagne Bake

Add eggplant: 1-2 eggplants approx 500g.  Pierce the skin with a fork in a couple of places or it will explode in the oven and roast for 40-45 minutes at 180c. Scoop out the flesh and combine with the sauce about 5-10 minutes before serving.

Layer the sauce with lasagne sheets and bake in the oven covered for 30-40 minutes at 180C.

Christine Pope is an experienced naturopath and nutritionist but she frequently gets bored trying to think about what to cook for dinner too! Please add further menu suggestions in the comments below and share your inspiration.

 

Serves 6-8

 

6 ways to quit plastic

Last year Coles and Woolworths decided to remove free plastic bags from the checkouts. In the 12 months following this announcement it reduced the number of single use plastic bags by 1.5 billion. However we are still using 3.5 billion plastic bags annually and there is quite a long way to go in reducing our reliance on plastic. After reading the book Quitting Plastic recently I have developed a quick list to start on helping you reduce your plastic use further.

  1. Ditch single use bags – reducing plastic bag use means that you need to take reusable bags every time you go shopping. Ideally return them to the car as soon as you have emptied them so they are ready for the next trip. Also have a think about whether you need bags as you buy items in the fruit shop. Can you just put them loose in a couple of your recyclable bags for weighing at the checkout?  If we do end up with a few bags from the shopping we reuse them as dog bags.
  2. Reduce plastic wrap – find containers that can be reused for storage rather than placing plastic wrap over the contents. For smaller items that do need coverage invest in some beeswax wraps. One medium wrap I bought I cut into three pieces and used it for wrapping cheese and another section for rewrapping around cold cuts. Beeswax wraps can be washed in lukewarm (not hot) water with a little dish soap to reuse them for up to 6-12 months.
  3. Find a drink bottle – single use water bottles are another significant contributor to our overuse of plastic. Stainless steel bottles can be used for both hot and cold drinks however there are also good quality plastic bottles that can be reused multiple times. Just try and avoid other nasties such as BPA or phthalates.
  4. Dine in or Keep Cups – two or three takeaway coffees a days can add up to a lot of cups cluttering landfill. Better alternatives are a keep cup that is reused or dining in.  Many cafes are now offering a discount if you use a keep cup which is another plus. Actually an even better option is to sit at the cafe and have your coffee or tea in a real ceramic or porcelain cup which then gets washed and reused. It’s also a good way to give yourself a little break during the day and its environmentally sound. It’s good to know I can justify a cuppa at my favourite locals when I am at work so look out for me at Pattisons or Stanley St Cafe !
  5. Freezer options – The first four items to me felt reasonably straight forward however I know that with keeping meat in the freezer I do not feel comfortable with it being unwrapped so what are the alternatives? The best options I can find so far are cornstarch bags (which are biodegradable) or using reusable plastic or glass containers. I have been freezing stock in glass bottles however I probably do lose an occasional one to breakages so you do need to be careful about how you store it in the freezer. Also do not put hot food into glass and then straight into the freezer, let it cool first.
  6. Clothing – To be really honest when I read the book Quitting Plastic I really hadn’t thought through the amount of plastics used in clothing and more concerningly the tendency for those plastics to generate micro-plastics in the washing process. These microplastics accumulate in our water supplies. A quick and panicked look at labels revealed a few good purchases and a few more concerning ones, in particular my favourite workout gear which is very flattering was also largely derived from plastics. BUT throwing it out will mean more plastics in landfill. So I am going to wear them out and find a bag that I can wash them in which will trap the microplastics (guppyfriend.com) and I can then throw them out. In the meantime I am carefully checking clothing and looking for a high percentage of cotton, wool, silk or bamboo or pulped wood fibres or cellulose such as viscose and rayon. One label that does offer alternatives in bamboo in colourful prints and designs is Maiochi. Country Road also offers some and quite a large range of cotton and linen.

For more ideas on quitting plastic have a look at my Instagram (@allaboutnaturalmedicine) this month or my Facebook page. You can also get your own copy of Quitting Plastic for a large range of other ideas from Booktopia, Target, Angus and Robertson or Dymocks.

Greening Christmas

XmasThis year think about reducing your footprint and making Christmas a little greener. Here are a few suggestions from fellow Naturopaths for you this year.

  1. Brown Paper Packages – most gift wrapping can’t be recycled so this year use brown paper and some fun stamps or fir sprigs to create an attractive Xmas wrapping. Brown paper is also highly cost effective at $10 for 30m at Officeworx.
  2. Kris Kringle – avoid buying lots of gifts which may end up in landfill and consider doing a Kris Kringle where everyone draws a name and buys one gift for the person on the list. The best thing about a Kris Kringle is that it saves hours of driving around looking for gifts as well.
  3. Gift of expertise – is there something you make or bake really well? Consider making some delicious chutney, jam or fermented vegetables in bulk and giving them at Christmas. Berries are in abundance at this time of year so its perfect for making jam. My husband’s Scottish grandmother made the most amazing shortbread and every year she would bulk buy butter when it was on sale to prepare her shortbread at Christmas. It’s still the best shortbread I can remember eating.
  4. Buy a real tree it has already sequestered some carbon. It is recyclable and in some countries now they run pickup programs to turn them into mulch for parks.
  5. Shop Local – cut down on the driving and support local businesses. Its also easier to drive to your local shops and pick up all your Christmas food at one time.
  6. Share the load – if friends or family are running an event offer to bring something like a dip and vegetable platter to help with the catering. That way you have a healthy option to eat and you take a load off your host or hostess.
  7. Presence is presents – catch up with friends for a cuppa at a local cafe and spend time with them. Maybe put the phone on silent for an hour too unless you need it for pictures of the kids.
  8. Regiftmas – if you do end up with a number of presents that aren’t really you consider organising regiftmas. Everyone brings a gift they won’t use and puts it in the middle. Then let everyone select one they do want. Alternatively look at giving them to a local charity. Women’s refuges are often happy to receive new toiletries and local charities often appreciate clean unworn clothing.

Adjusting your Set Point

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What is your set point and can you change it? Set Point is a theory that once your weight stabilises the body will use a series of signals to maintain that weight and most people will bounce around a consistent weight plus or minus a couple of kilo’s. When they start reducing weight below the Set Point by more than 2 kilos then they will feel hungrier when it goes above they will more easily be full.

What interferes with these signals? Hyper palatable foods! Doesn’t sound that bad does it? These foods result in cravings for more food and then a round of unsuccessful yo yo dieting which sees overall weight increasing consistently. How do you go about resetting this mechanism and achieving lasting weight loss?

There are a few key principles to achieving lasting weight loss but the first one is avoiding the foods which sabotage our efforts for at least 6 weeks. What are these foods? Well think about what you would least like to miss out on and I can almost guarantee its on the list;

  1. Chocolate
  2. Ice Cream
  3. French fries
  4. Pizza
  5. Biscuits
  6. Cake
  7. Potato chips
  8. Buttered popcorn
  9. Cheeseburger
  10. Breakfast cereal

shutterstock_1034655277The combination of fat and carbohydrate is particularly difficult to resist. Add in preservatives and other flavour enhancers and it changes our brain chemistry to crave these foods. Six weeks of avoiding these foods really helps resetting our brain chemistry and provides us with fewer cravings which can sabotage our efforts when we are tired and stressed.

The other key principles for resetting the Set point involve supportive dietary and lifestyle changes. Its critical to ensure the following are included;

  1. Adequate protein – this is critical to ensuring that you feel full and that your blood sugar is stable. Diets high in carbohydrates result in significant fluctuations in blood sugar and insulin levels.
  2. Diet breaks – this one was a personal favourite! To ensure that the body doesn’t keep returning to homeostasis or your old Set Point we need to ensure it doesn’t get used to a particular routine and sabotage our efforts. One of the key findings from research is that long term caloric restriction reduces your basal metabolic rate. You either slow down or burn fewer calories. Implementing breaks interferes with these compensatory mechanisms and yields longer term weight loss and maintenance of that fat loss.
  3. Adequate sleep – whilst it may appear contradictory good quality sleep is actually more critical than exercise. Poor quality sleep reduces willpower, increases appetite and reduces the desire to exercise. In teenagers who were overweight simply increasing sleep resulted in an overall reduction in appetite and decrease in fat mass.
  4. Regular physical exercise either medium to high intensity. Regular exercise builds mitochondria in the cells. Mitochondria are like little factories which produce energy and the more we have the higher our baseline energy consumption. Research is highlighting that high intensity training can be the best way to build mitochondria so to give your efforts a boost you need to ensure you have 4 to 5 sessions of exercise a week.
  5. The right diet for you – for some people its low carbohydrate and that is certainly popular at the moment however for other people its low fat. Again the evidence is that either can result in successful weight loss in conjunction with regular exercise and stress management.

Are you ready to try and change your Set Point? Book in for a consultation with Christine Pope at Elemental Health and see how we can work together to change it. Appointments can be made on 8084 0081 or online at the website www.elementalhealth.net.au .

More information about obstacles to weight loss can be found in the recent blog What’s your metabolism blocker ?

 

 

Six sleep myths debunked

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Sometimes I think we are dealing with an epidemic of insomnia. The number of people that I see who have problems falling asleep or staying asleep is concerning. Recently I was fortunate enough to go to a seminar by a Sleep Physician which looked at all the research on sleep and I was surprised to find that some of my beliefs around sleep had in fact no basis in reality whereas other areas were more critical than I thought. Let’s start with some of the myths that originated from the Puritans.

  1. 16 hours awake, 8 hours asleep. This myth originates from a time of the Puritanical work ethic but is the root belief that we need 8 hours of sleep is derived from this time period.
  2. Sleep before midnight is more valuable – well actually no if you are a night owl trying to get to sleep earlier may result in more stress and less valuable sleep than if you work with your natural time clock. Going to bed at twelve and waking at eight may be a much better fit for you and result in better energy through the day. However if you need to get up early on a regular basis you may need to wind bedtime back to an earlier time to operate effectively.
  3. Waking is not normal. Actually the evidence shows we start with a deeper sleep cycle that gets progressively lighter and we usually experience up to 4 of these a night. For women over fifty it is normal to have the cycle peak and result in waking at least two to four times a night. Being stressed about waking will probably extend the period between cycles.
  4. Screens affect sleep . I have always told people that screens in the bedroom are not a healthy option either for their relationships or their sleep patterns. Turns out that it is partially right. TV screens at a distance are actually much less problematic than devices close up, largely due to the blue light of the devices. This blue light triggers wakefulness and can affect sleep adversely. Also the noises that most phone make even on silent can interrupt sleep.
  5. Eating impacts sleep but primarily if it represents a change in routine. Eating dinner at eight or nine isn’t a problem as long as its your regular option. The body will produce digestive enzymes in accordance with your regular routine. Its only when you change your routine that it may impact your sleep.
  6. Wake up refreshed actually less than 3% of people wake up like that. For most of us it takes two hours to get to 80% of your cognitive ability. Give yourself time to wake up in the morning before kicking into work mode.

For a lot more useful information about sleep check out the website sleephub.com for a variety of podcasts and other resources. Lets hope in future you wake up more like this.

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Hopefully after reviewing these myths and making a few changes you will start to feel as though you are having better quality sleep. If not make an appointment to see me and see how we can work on the causes of poor quality sleep. Appointments can be made on 8084 0081 or online at the website