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

Menopause could be a report card

shutterstock_258522395One of the myths about menopause is that symptoms are related to a deficiency of hormones, either estrogen or progesterone. Yet if that was the case why wouldn’t all women get these symptoms ? My favourite assessment of menopause is that its a “report card” on the last 10 years. That’s great if you have been doing all the right things but it can be problematic if you live in a big city, work full time with kids or have dealt with a  lot of stress.

Generally in practice the consistent triggers for menopausal havoc are adrenal fatigue, toxicity, dysbiosis (gut dysfunction), hormonal imbalance, excess weight and inflammation. In the more difficult cases it can be a combination of these factors and that’s why its important to ensure you review all these areas in your initial case taking and think about which areas you need to prioritise.

So how do you decide what’s contributing to your symptoms ?

  1. Adrenal Fatigue – also known as I am a full time carer, full time worker and full time nanny/housekeeper (also known as Mum) or combination of some or all of the above. Stress initially raises adrenaline to prepare us for fight or flight. Longer term it results in elevated cortisol which may result in fluid retention and weight gain.
  2. Dysbiosis or gut dysfunction – if your gut isn’t working properly its hard to digest the nutrients you need and also support your liver to detoxify effectively. This will result in hormone imbalance particularly through peri-menopause when the liver is already working harder to detoxify hormones. Signs of gut dysfunction could include flatulence, bloating or reflux. Treatment will often involve identifying and removing food intolerances whilst supporting digestive function to reduce reactivity.
  3. Toxicity – two big areas areas are Heavy Metals or Endocrine Disruptors which can be a little tricky to determine but think lots of plastics or old fillings (usually amalgams contain mercury and silver). Switch over to glass or BPA free plastic as much as possible to reduce your exposure to endocrine disruptors. Also look at your cosmetics and skin care products to ensure you are minimising your exposure to chemicals and reducing the burden on the liver. One problem with toxicity is that it makes it harder to lose weight as the body will push these toxins into fat and will resist releasing it to protect you.
  4. Inflammation can be due to carrying excess body fat but can also be due to chronic injuries which trigger constant inflammation in the body. Anti-inflammatory supplements such as fish oil and tumeric can be helpful but exercise has an important role to play here in reducing inflammation as well. Just make sure its not aggravating an existing injury and consider whether you may need more support such as in acqua aerobics in the pool for example which can take pressure off joints.
  5. Hormonal Imbalance for some women hormones will be imbalanced because of some of the reasons listed above however there are some good herbal and homeopathic options available which can help. The most widely used herbal medicine is probably Vitex or Agnes Castus which can assist women with menopausal symptoms. Usually with herbal medicine and certainly with homeopathic medicines it is preferable to prescribe based on the client’s specific symptoms. In the last few months I have found clients have had relief from symptoms with Glonoine, Sepia and Sulphur homeopathically, its never one size fits all . A 2008 study of 438 women with hot flushes showed a significant improvement in symptoms for 90% of women in the trial (1).

Christine Pope is a Naturopath and Nutritionist based at Elemental Health at St Ives. Appointments can be made on 8084 0081 or online at the website

 

 

(1) Treating Hot Flushes in Menopausal Women – an observational study accessed at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18194760

Is it time to recharge the batteries?

Taking a week out in the sun in Winter is an ideal way to recharge the batteries. This year I went to Fiji for a week with the family and it made such a difference to have a mid year break. The question is how do you keep the batteries charged when you get back?

Think about incorporating some of the relaxing rituals from your holiday into your life on your return or use it as a chance to start eating better. Some useful options to consider could be:

  1. Daily walks – one thing you tend to do as a tourist is walk, often quite a lot more than you would normally. So once you have started why not keep it up. Walking along the beach is always relaxing and incorporating a weekly beach or bayside walk is ideal. The great thing about walking is you don’t need a lot of equipment and you can always walk to a coffee bar for a convenient top up.
  2. Being in nature – barefoot on the beach or on your back lawn. Walking the Corso in Manly is a great way to pick up your mood. Spending some time in nature each day really helps us stay grounded.
  3. Massage or other bodywork – incorporate this into your weekly or monthly schedule to help maintain your self and calm your cortisol. The village adjoining the resort in Fiji offered a one hour massage for about $30 Australian. Easier to afford at this price but with health funds rebating up to $30 for a treatment it could be a good way to add some self care on a regular basis. My clinic at St Ives has three excellent massage therapists offering lymphatic, craniosacral or remedial massage.
  4. Add greens to your diet. Again something simple and relatively easy to incorporate that will give you long term benefits. My breakfast in Fiji included sautéed okra and spinach, both locally grown so they were really tasty. Try adding spinach to your breakfast omelette or a salad at lunch.
  5. Eat seasonally it’s often cheaper and the food is usually in peak condition. The imperfect pick section in Harris Farm is usually a good indicator of what’s fresh , seasonal and well priced. At the moment lots of root vegetables and cauliflower as well as citrus and apples and pears.
  6. Hydrate ! If you can’t find someone to open a coconut for you at least drain the water bottle by lunch. We loved being able to enjoy the coconut water from a freshly opened coconut and then ate the young flesh from inside. Good hydration and good fats!

Christine Pope is an experienced naturopath based at Elemental Health St Ives. Appointments can be made on 8084 0081 or online at the Elemental website .

Prebiotic vs probiotic ?

shutterstock_583825927You are taking a probiotic and you think you understand what that does. Now people are talking about prebiotics and you’re not sure whether you should be taking that as well ?

A prebiotic is a food that feeds the  gut bacteria whereas a probiotic is a  combination of strains of various gut bacteria. Different types of prebiotics can feed different strains of bacteria so the prebiotic can be used therapeutically to promote beneficial strains at the expense of more problematic strains.

Lots of different foods are prebiotics as well as various supplements. For an appropriate  list  of foods look at my most recent blog Feed your Good Gut Bacteria . In terms of prebiotic supplements there are a number of interesting options to consider.

  1. Hydrolysed Guar Gum is a partially broken down soluble fiber which is extracted from the Indian Cluster bean.
  2. Galacto-oligodisaccharidases (GOS) are made from either a milk product source or from chicory roots.  It is helpful if someone is also constipated and may increase bifidobacteria as well.
  3. Larch is the bark of a tree. It supports the production of a key fuel to support the integrity of the gut lining known as butyrate. It also has been shown to support the growth of good gut bacteria such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus which reducing the growth of E Coli and Clostridia. It is thought that the larch stimulates the immune system and therefore keeps opportunistic bugs in check.
  4. Lactulose is made of up of two sugars galactose and fructose and is used to treat constipation. It is not digested like other sugars and therefore when it moves through to the colon the bacteria can feed on it and it draws water into the stool making it easier to pass.

Once you know the composition of your gut flora you can really assist in building better diversity by supporting the growth of beneficial strains or by crowding out problem bacteria. Ideally using testing such as a Comprehensive Digestive Stool Analysis or directly through a group like Ubiome you can improve your knowledge of your gut bacteria.

If you need assistance with gut health please make an appointment with Christine Pope on 8084 0081.

Terry Wahl’s diet for Multiple Sclerosis

shutterstock_227550832At the Bioceuticals Symposium in Melbourne recently I was fortunate to hear from keynote speaker, Dr Terry Wahl’s on the program which put her Multiple Sclerosis into remission. One of the refreshing things about this presentation was the strong focus on diet first, then exercise second and then supplements. The benefit of this approach is that it isn’t just suitable for MS but also anyone suffering from an autoimmune disease and current indications are that this could be in excess of 20% of the population.

Dr Wahl’s was diagnosed with MS in 2000 and used conventional therapies to manage the symptoms. She deteriorated to the extent that she was in a tilt wheelchair and needing to resign from her position at the hospital. Motivated by the downward spiral and with a background in clinical research she started looking for options in the medical literature and looked more broadly at other degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s and Huntingdon’s disease. The drug therapies being tested were decades away so her research then led her to vitamins and supplements. What she found was a number of nutrients that slowed the pace of her MS but did not resolve the underlying condition. After discovering Functional Medicine in 2007 she decided to redesign her diet to try and incorporate those nutrients from food. This had such a significant impact that she went from a wheelchair to walking in one year.

The basis of her program is significant dietary change, basically flooding the body with nutrients. This is done by removing gluten, dairy and sugar and replacing it with a lot of nutrient dense vegetables and phytochemical rich fruit as well as small amounts of good quality protein and fats. The program encourages the use of butter which has been demonised for so long although ideally only the butter of grass fed cows so its rich in nutrients. It also includes small amount of organ meats, ideally organic, for their nutrient density. So pate is back on the menu but you can’t eat it with bread!

Key components of the diet are as follows;

  1. Up to 9 cups a day of vegetables and fruit of which ideally 3 cups are green leafy vegetables and 3 cups are sulphur containing vegetables and the remaining are brightly coloured vegetables and fruit.
  2. Small quantities of good quality protein ideally grass fed or organic.
  3. Fermented foods in small quantities initially to assist in feeding beneficial gut bacteria.
  4. Seaweed to provide adequate amounts of the essential mineral iodine
  5. Organ meats such as liver or heart once or twice a week, these should ideally be organic but particularly important to have organic liver as many toxins can be stored in the liver.
  6. Good quality fats such as olive oil and  grass fed butter.

For more information on the specifics of this diet her book is invaluable and she also has many resources on her website including meal plans.

In addition to the dietary changes, adequate sun exposure for Vitamin D as well as regular exercise are critical. Typically exercise is often difficult for MS patients however she recommends working with a suitably qualified exercise therapist to ensure that activity is appropriate and builds up gradually. The advantage is that regular exercise increases the number of mitochondria which assist in building energy, so this is helpful with the fatigue associated with MS and other auto-immune conditions.

Christine Pope is a Naturopath based at Elemental Health at St Ives and can be contacted for appointments on 8084 0081. Christine works with clients to optimise the diet and support them with supplements and herbal medicine.

8 strategies for stressed parents

shutterstock_19655527As a working parent with two children I know how stressful the juggle can be with work, finances, activities and parenting not to mention finding time with your partner. How do you make it a bit easier on yourself ? Steve Biddulph recommends making a 5% change so I have made a few suggestions on some good starting points.

Childcare is a cost of working – get the best you can afford

For many parents the cost of childcare for a young child makes them wonder why they are returning to work (Its for your sanity/mortgage payments/contact with other adults). Whilst the ideal may be a full time nanny its just not affordable for everyone, so think about what it may look like. Maybe a combination of long day care, a regular sitter for after work functions or other commitments and hopefully some helpful grandparents. Just remember planning is critical so you aren’t in a constant panic. Finding a regular sitter or two, who is available on short notice, can be a real god send.

Just remember they will only be in long day care for a few years, then you have the joy of navigating lengthy school holidays and after school care. You still need to think about a budget for childcare even when they are at school its just going to be lumpier. School holiday camps such as YMCA and Crusader Camps can be a good way to occupy a week but the costs will add up.

Trade off $$$ for annual leave

The other option can be to trade for additional leave to cover some of the school holidays, many employers are now offering this option or you may be able to negotiate an extra week or two in lieu of a pay rise. Given the ratio of 12 weeks school holidays to four weeks paid leave this can be really helpful.

Outsource as much as possible

Cooking , cleaning , shopping, washing and ironing – what ever you don’t enjoy doing think about outsourcing. Personally I think a cleaner is essential for any working parent. After a full day at work coming home and starting to clean is just exhausting. It also reduces the volume of arguments about cleaning on the home front which is another plus.

shutterstock_51065257Reduce scheduled activities

So many parents are shuttling kids from activity to activity after school with no downtime. Why? Do they really need to speak Mandarin, be coached in maths, play two sports and the piano? Schedule play dates with their friends and help them build social skills. Or just limit to a couple of things they really want to do – whether its football and drama or dance and tennis. Better still many schools offer activities as part of the after school program so make it easier by having them at the same venue and fill any gaps with after school care.

Involve kids in food preparation

The best time to have a chat with your kids about what’s happening is when they are a little distracted. Getting kids to peel carrots or chop up a few vegetables can be a good time for them to tell you about their day or chat when something is worrying them. Often they will also try new foods when they have been involved in the preparation. My kids went to a Montessori kindergarden and used knives from Age 3. Frankly I found it terrifying initially but they did develop skills quite quickly.

Tear up those parenting books (and blogs)

The first year I was home with young children, another colleague and I agreed that the parenting books were driving us insane and making us feel inadequate. So we agreed to just rip out the chapters that irritated us. There wasn’t much left. Its a bit like that with social media now, the pressure to rear these perfect children who always behave in public and have perfect grades.

Ban Homework in Primary School

This one might be a bit controversial but really there isn’t any good evidence to suggest that regular homework at this primary school makes any difference. They have already spent 6-8 hours at school that day so why send parents more work to do that night?

I still have nightmares about my daughter’s worst ever parent teacher interview where I was told by her Grade 4 teacher that she had the most appalling attitude to homework. Now the teacher was asking my daughter to write spelling words up on the board that she already knew and then wanted her to copy them out three times as well. I calmly suggested I would support homework that was useful, but this clearly wasn’t and that she knew by asking my daughter to write the words on the board that she already knew how to spell them.

You can have it all just not all at the same time!

Having kids is a big job. Very few people would try being CEO of 2 businesses at once. In the first couple of years it’s normal to be shell shocked or sleep deprived. So if work demands a 12 hour day then think seriously about a sideways move for a couple of years until you are ready to handle it. One of the hardest things I ever did was ask my boss for a four day week but it completely saved my sanity. Years later he told me he was soooo relieved as he thought I was going to ask for three days!

Christine Pope is a Naturopath, Homeopath and Nutritionist based at Elemental Health, St Ives. She is available for appointments on 8084 0081 if you need help managing stress!

Going back to school!

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This year I was reminded by the old movie “White Christmas” to count my blessings instead of sheep. One of my big blessings this year was studying with a great group of final year Naturopathy students who really reminded me of the value of what natural medicine can do for clients. What was I doing back at college after 12 years of practice as a Homeopath and Nutritionist (including three years as Head of Nutrition at the College)? Well I decided to finally finish my full naturopathic qualification which included three years of Herbal Medicine and additional student clinic hours. I successfully completed it in September this year.

First term this year at college I completed two clinics on Friday’s back to back. It was a full on day and often we had no time for breaks. The clinics were surprisingly busy and this was largely due to the fact that the group I was studying with brought in lots of their own clients (friends and family) and this meant we saw a much wider range of clients than I would usually see in my own clinic. The first reminder from my group was that you need to keep marketing all the time and and as a result I kicked up my own efforts in terms of both networking and social media marketing.

The second learning was that simple changes to diet and an individual herbal mix or a few well chosen supplements can often make a big difference. For example changing someone’s diet to gluten free when they are suffering from constipation and are also managing an auto-immune condition such as Hashimoto’s can result in big improvements.

Another area that often surprised me was that the information from a well taken case is as comprehensive as extensive blood testing in determining what is needed (although its nice to have the testing as well). In clinic I use some additional testing in terms of Oligoscan, which provides details on 20 nutrient minerals as well as 10 heavy metals plus Quadscan which provides information on body mass parameters, such as muscle mass, fat mass and hydration. Click on this link for more information on the Oligoscan .

shutterstock_318010247There was also a deeper reminder with my core training as I was often asked to sit in on a case when they thought a homeopathic medicine was needed. What impressed me every time was how skilled these new graduates to be were in taking these cases and how as a group we prescribed some very effective homeopathic medicines. It was a good learning about  how the right homeopathic remedy can really shift an emotional state, particularly when people are stuck in grief or anxiety.

Overall I found that finalising Naturopathy added another essential tool to my kit as the value of herbal medicines for organ support is useful in so many cases. Many supplements also contain a mix of herbal medicines and vitamins and minerals so its good to be clear about the value of each component.

Have you done more study recently? What did you get out of it?

Christine Pope is a Naturopath, Homeopath and Nutritionist based at Elemental Health at St Ives. You can make appointments online at Elemental Health or book on 02 8084 0081.