Is your brain still suffering?

Brain health doesn’t have to deteriorate as we get older but it seems in many people that they blame poor memory or difficulty concentrating simply on ageing. Actually difficulties with your brain are really an indicator of declining health generally. Symptoms which alert you to the fact that your brain is struggling could be vague, such as forgetting names or where you parked the car or they can be more disabling such as vertigo or tinnutis (ringing in the ears) .

Improving brain health requires a systematic approach focussed on reducing inflammation and improving function. In an earlier post I talked about the gut brain connection so if you have sorted out this area without resolving your issues its now time to consider other areas which can cause damage to your brain.

Probably the two major areas are toxicity and deficiency. So how does each of these present and what can you do to improve your brain health?

Toxicity 

Heavy metals particularly aluminium and mercury can build up over years of exposure and create problems. Aluminium is probably the easiest metal to understand as there is research to show that you have a significantly  higher risk of developing Alzheimers if you worked in Aluminium factories. Alzheimers involves the development of plaque which blocks connections in the brain (known as beta amyloid). The Lancet published some research showing a link between long term aluminium exposures and an increase in the build up of this type of plaque. A researcher called Rondeau also looked at the impact of high daily intake of aluminium from water and other sources and found it was correlated with an increased risk of dementia and cognitive decline. Anecdotally I am also aware of a case of severe onset Alzheimers in a gentleman who had worked in an aluminium coating plant for a long period of time.

Worker with protective mask welding metal

How do you detect heavy metal exposures? Blood tests are not very reliable unless the exposure is recent as the body will try and move heavy metals to fat to protect you from the impact and levels in the blood will not be maintained. Hair analysis is useful if you are what we call “an excretor”, that is you are able to detoxify and mobilise the metal out of fat stores. Obviously if you are able to detox heavy metals you wouldn’t be experiencing symptoms. Hair analysis and blood tests can show up heavy metals if you administer a provocation challenge before the tests, otherwise hair analysis may not give you an accurate picture until you have chelated heavy metals for a number of months.

The Oligoscan machine can detect heavy metals held in tissue and is based on spectrometer analysis. Its not unusual once you start treating a client for heavy metals to actually see levels increase before they start reducing. This is usually because they are mobilising deeper stores of the heavy metals and moving them out resulting in an increase in levels.
Home Made Cultured Or Fermented Vegetables
How do you reduce heavy metals or “chelate” them as it is more commonly known? The first step is ensuring the client’s system is alkaline which requires a diet high in fruit and vegetables as well as additional support from Vitamin C in reasonable doses (up to 2g a day). You would also ensure that you were giving nutrient minerals which antagonise the heavy metal. Generally that requires zinc in significant doses however it is also worth looking at other nutrients such as selenium which is also a potent anti-oxidant to support chelation.

Deficiency

Obviously deficiencies of key nutrients can allow toxicity to buildup and its important to ensure that you maintain a good intake of key minerals from your diet to minimise this risk. Nutrient deficiencies can show up with wide range of symptoms. You really need to look at the complete picture to determine what may be problematic. Generally with brain fog and low energy always think about magnesium, iron and iodine – for quite different reasons.

Magnesium is a critical nutrient responsible as a catalyst for over 300 reactions in the body. Low levels can really affect your ability to operate at many levels, typically you can be wired and tired as well as suffering from cramps or constipation.

Iron is the nutrient which carries oxygen in the blood so low levels can result in poor brain oxygenation and difficulty thinking. Its a simple blood test to get iron levels checked so it should be excluded as a possible issue.

Iodine is a key component of thyroid hormone and Australians’ are suffering from historically low levels of iodine which means deficiency is very common. Thyroid is a master hormone controlling growth and repair as well as energy. Low thyroid will leave you foggy, tired and prone to easily gaining weight.

It’s not unusual to find that you have both toxicity and deficiency as your body will try and “normalise” the situation depleting it of important nutrient minerals. You need to work on improving your stores of nutrients first before chelating out toxicity.

Need more information on supporting your brain health? Christine is in practice at Elemental Health St Ives , appointments can be booked on 8084 0081.

Why I feed my dog a natural food diet

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In 2008 I was on the Organising Committee for a Homeopathic conference which was held in Sydney. One of our most popular speakers was a Vet who also used homoeopathics called Clare Middle and what really stuck in my head was her attitude towards diet. She said 70% of skin problems in animals were solved purely by feeding the pet a natural food diet. To me that showed how helpful a natural food diet could be in maintaining your pet’s health.

So what does our dog eat? Well most nights its a couple of chicken wings plus a bone of some type as well as leftover fruit and vegetables. We keep a tub in the fridge in which we put organic vegetable peelings, outside lettuce leaves and the woody bits of the broccoli and cauliflower as well as the tops and tail of carrots plus leftovers from our table like salad or risotto. Generally we avoid anything with a lot of garlic or onion which are quite toxic for dogs. Anything that is looking a little too soft from the fruit bowl also goes in the dog bowl.
Dog bowl

Feeding the dog this way is actually very cost effective – most of the vegetables would have been thrown away and the 2kg of chicken wings a week is only about $8. The vet Claire Middle also recommends a weekly meal of oily fish, we find a can of sardines work well and are usually quite cheap. She also has a little book available through her website which explains exactly what you need to feed your pet. Click here for details.

Our dog Buffy is now 7 years old and is a really healthy animal. She doesn’t seem to suffer from dog breath and has a really healthy coat. The picture above is one my son took when we were away and checking on the dog (it was taken on his sister’s bed)!

So what’s wrong with commercial dog food? Depends on what it is really, but as the Vet explained it seems that they often have a very high carbohydrate content and that’s different to what dogs would eat in the wild. Dogs were really scavengers and would eat small animals and whatever was dropped on the ground or easily accessed. Basically dogs are used to having bones in their diet and in the wild you will see animals eating the droppings of carnivores to access the calcium from the bones they consumed. There would be some carbohydrate in their diet from vegetables and fruit however not really from grains which is what many commercial dog foods may use.

We did try to convert our cat to a natural food diet with a little less success – she will eat raw minced meats like chicken and lamb but cannot figure out what to do with chicken necks, which is what was recommended for cats. She also gets a bit sniffy about fish, not really keen on canned fish but loves a bit of our leftover tuna or salmon.

How do you feed your pets? Have you tried a natural food diet with them and been successful?

Christine Pope is a nutritionist and homeopath based in Sydney at St Ives and practices at her clinic, Elemental Health. She feeds her family a largely whole food diet and her pets as well.

What’s your mineral status like?

Dairy products

Most of us are aware that we need calcium and the dairy lobby do a great job at reminding us that we need three serves a day. I think we need a marketing lobby for the other sixteen nutrient minerals which really don’t get the same air time but have really critical roles to play in how well we function.

I have posted extensively about the role of magnesium in the past as its probably calcium’s forgotten partner. Calcium and magnesium are required for effective muscle contraction and release as well as to assist calcium to mobilise into bone. Muscle cramping is a common sign of magnesium deficiency. Good sources of magnesium include most of the green leafy vegetables, ideally at least one cup a day.

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Magnesium is also well indicated if your energy levels are low and will often help improve energy quite quickly. However if magnesium isn’t doing the job you may need to add Manganese as well. Good sources include most of the legumes such as chickpeas and lentils.

Zinc for example is critical for effective digestion as it is required for many digestive enzymes. Good sources of red meat are zinc and oysters – two things that many women don’t eat enough of or don’t like (really oysters YUK). Low zinc status means low immunity so you are prone to getting every infection that goes around. Signs of zinc deficiency include white spots on the finger nails and noticing you are losing your sense of taste or smell. Compromised digestion can also be another signal that zinc levels are low.

So how do you check all these levels easily – there are a couple of tools in naturopathic practice , Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis, which is offered by a few companies such as Interclinical and Healthscope Pathology. There is also a new tool which has been recently released in Australia called Oligoscan, which uses Spectrophotometry to measure the optical density of the trace elements, minerals and heavy metals, currently present in the tissues. It provides, in real time, a precise analysis of the minerals in the skin and peripheral blood vessels. No biopsy, blood or hair sample is needed. There are often delays in waiting for Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis as women often need to grow out colour before a sample can be taken and many dislike cutting their hair.

Having recently introduced the Oligoscan I have found it really helps target potential health issues related to mineral deficiciencies and heavy metal toxicity. One of the areas that is consistently a problem is Aluminium levels as we are exposed to it in so many ways. Basically you think of Aluminium in cans and foil but it is widely present in toiletries and cosmetics as well as being used in the form of aluminium sulfate to treat water to kill off bacteria. Given the concerns about Aluminium and it relationship to Alzheimers it would be sensible to reduce your exposure to this element as much as possible. A good quality water filter should remove the Aluminium before you drink the water, after all you only need the Aluminium sulfate to do its job killing bacteria you don’t need it after that.

A quick preview of the technology is given on this Youtube clip. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6nwFFQndS10wG6t2FWBsGQ

More information on Oligoscan is on their website at http://www.oligoscan.net.au or you can visit me at St Ives and organise a test either as part of a consult or as a standalone test. Clinic number is 8084 0081 and I am available Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Other days I am lecturing at Nature Care College.

Stress – its not all in your head!

Man touching his temples to calm a headache on white backgroundStress often adds a range of physical symptoms to its load, as it if wasn’t bad enough that you were on a tight deadline now its adding its own load of odd stomach problems, headaches, muscle aches and pains and insomnia! Or you get to sleep and you can’t stay asleep waking up at 2am thinking about everything you need to do tomorrow.

Where do all these physical symptoms come from? First up think about your breathing. Typically when you are stressed you breathe from the top of your chest and you really don’t get enough oxygen where it’s needed. Blood flow to some areas is reduced by up to 75%.  Muscles and joints tighten up and you start feeling cramps, plus aches and pains. Notice how when you are stressed your shoulders start to head up towards your ears. Sit up, let your shoulders soften and take a few deep breaths with your hand on your belly. Notice the difference. If you are feeling really overwhelmed try doing the breathing with one hand on your forehead it may help calm the brain as well.

Then there are all the stomach problems, you are either going to the bathroom too often or not at all. The same neurotransmitters that are in our head are also well represented in our stomachs (approx 70%). Not surprisingly when we are running on adrenaline or cortisol is staying high our stomachs start to act out.

If stomach problems are your dominant symptom and you weren’t feeling stressed before they started then there may well be other causes. Often Irritable Bowel type symptoms can be related to an earlier infection with a parasite, anything from giardia to blastocyst hominis. If you had a bad gastro type infection and have never really been the same since,  its well worth getting a 3 day parasitology done to check what it really happening. Try and do it during a period when symptoms are bad as frequently these bugs are cyclical.

Managing stressors will help you with all the physical symptoms as well. Make sure your diet is well balanced, favouring small amounts of good quality protein and lots of vegetables. In addition think about adding a good quality magnesium with between 400-800mg a day, particularly if you are getting cramps and having trouble sleeping or staying asleep. Consider getting some supportive physical therapy such as massage or osteopathy to help keep your shoulders where they belong.