Sore throat tips for winter

Sore throat tips for winter

Sore throats can happen at any time of year, but tend to be more common in winter as a combination of dry cool air and spending more time crowded indoors with other people (and sharing their germs!).

 When looking at sore throats it’s important to identify the cause of the pain – the most common causes are viral or bacterial infections, or environmental and allergic reactions.  These can be generally managed quite easily, but there can be more serious causes as well that may require more than basic treatment.

 In terms of symptomatic relief, the classics are classics for a reason – they are generally soothing, coat the throat to provide a protective barrier against damage and infection, and some substances have anti-inflammatory or anti-microbial effects.  Starting with the most basic of remedies, gargling with warm salty water is both anti-microbial and soothing, while warm thick drinks containing honey and lemon coat the throat and fight infections.  Good quality manuka honey has been shown to have antimicrobial properties, but needs to be taken regularly at a high concentration for proper therapeutic effect – regular honey just won’t cut it.  Ginger infusions are pleasantly warming and combine very well with both lemon and honey for a soothing, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial drink.  Ideally, these would be sipped regularly while the drink is warm to maintain a protective layer, or (in the case of salt water) can be gargled regularly before and after meals.  

When it comes to herbs, there are a number of options to consider, but as always it’s incredibly important to check herb-drug interactions, be aware of allergies and only use high quality herbal extracts.  The following have a good scientific backing for their medicinal properties: 

  • Marshmallow extract is usually prepared in glycerine rather than alcohol, meaning is it sweet, thick and provides anti-inflammatory effect to the respiratory and digestive tract – and is pleasant to take! 
  • Sage and liorice root also have anti-inflammatory properties (although liorice can loosen chest congestion that will need to be coughed up and out)
  • Echinacea extract is an immune modulator that can assist the body in dealing with infections. 
  • Clove extract has an anaesthetic effect and can be taken as a spray or lozenge to numb the throat and reduce pain, although should be used sparingly as it’s easy to cause accidental mouth damage when it’s all numb!

Most adults should be able to tolerate the above remedies without issues, however precautions should be taken with children and only given under professional guidance.  Honey (especially raw honey) should be completely avoided in children under 1, and lozenges should be avoided in children under 4 as they are a choking hazard.  When dispensed by a professional, herbs will be dosed appropriately for the childs’ age and weight.  Liorice is fine for children in small doses, but higher doses can cause headaches, high blood pressure and altered electrolytes and should be avoided in people with high blood pressure.

 From an environmental point of view, using a humidifier and avoiding cold air can make a big difference – as does avoiding sick people and crowded places to avoid spreading infections.  It’s important to maintain fluid intake to keep respiratory tissues moist from the inside and to avoid allergic triggers that would worsen symptoms.  Keeping the throat and chest area warm is generally beneficial and while some people with a sore throat find ice-cream soothing due to its numbing and ‘icing’ effect, I would generally discourage this as the cold can aggravate it further.  Eating soft foods are generally well tolerated and are less likely to irritate inflamed tissue than, say, pineapple fritters!

 Learning to cough ‘silently’ (a technique used by speech pathologists to minimise harm to the vocal cords) can also be useful to avoiding irritating an already sore and tender throat.  The technique involves tilting the head forward after a deep exhalation and then swallowing to clear mucous and phlegm without the harsh cough.

Lastly, symptomatic relief is all well and good, but a viral or bacterial infection will have a different progression and possible consequences than a physiological cause like silent reflux or oesophageal nodules. A sore throat that doesn’t resolve within a reasonable time (usually a few days to a few weeks) and is accompanied by other symptoms should trigger further investigation to rule out longer term issues.

 

5 Ways to Boost Your Circulation This Winter

5 Ways to Boost Your Circulation This Winter

As the cooler weather sets in, even cooler hands and feet start being noticed when shaking hands or hugging – or even climbing into bed! Apart from the usual thick socks, rubbing hands together vigorously or holding hot cups of tea, what else can you do to boost your circulation and warm up those icy extremities?

1. Stop Smoking

It’s never too late to quit! Every day that you don’t smoke, every part of your body benefits – including your red blood cells, blood vessels, lungs and heart, all of which contribute to how you react to cold. Even if you’ve been smoking for years, the negative effects can be reversed and you start to experience benefits from as little as 20 minutes after you stop smoking as heart rate and blood pressure drop and return to normal! In only 12 hours, the body clears excess carbon monoxide, which blocks your lungs and heart from carrying oxygen, increasing your whole body’s oxygen supply. One day after quitting, these increased oxygen levels and lower blood pressure make physical activity and exercise easier, which in turn improve blood flow. Lung start to heal after a month and will have significantly healed by nine months – most people notice their ability to breathe, exercise and feel good improved from about three months after quitting.

2. Iron

People over 65 are more likely to have iron-poor diets, be taking blood thinners or have kidney problems resulting in trouble making red blood cells or processing protein rich foods. Even if you’re not pumping iron at the gym each day, you should at least make sure your dietary intake is adequate. Ideally, consume plenty of iron rich foods every day – and not just red meat! Eat a variety of iron rich foods such as legumes (including lentils, chickpeas and beans), tofu and tempeh, nuts and seeds, whole-grains and iron-fortified cereals, and leafy green veggies such as spinach, silverbeet, asparagus and broccoli or dried fruit such as prunes and raisins. The fruit and vegetables will also help supply Vitamin C, which is necessary to properly absorb iron from food. If you struggle with solid foods, then an iron supplement may be a great alternative during the cold season when your body needs it more. Look for an easily absorbable form that does not cause constipation, and take 2 hours before or after other medications (especially thyroid medications, antibiotics, some antidepressant drugs, calcium or fibre supplements).

3. Herbs

There are a number of herbs that improve circulation, but which herb is right for you depends on what you need to address. Some herbs works as blood thinners to keep blood flowing smoothly [such as ginger (Zingiber officinale) or willow bark (Salix alba)], decreasing venous pooling [such as bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) or butchers’ broom (Ruscus aculeatus)], others relax and stabilise blood vessels to allow more blood through [such as hawthorn (Crataegus spp), Ginkgo biloba, or cayenne (Capsicum annuum)]. ‘Warming’ herbs [such as ginger or black pepper (Piper nigrum)] are well known for bringing blood to the capillaries and can be taken internally as teas or tonics, or externally as creams or balms. Herbs rich in antioxidants and other active phytochemicals [such as turmeric (Curcuma longa) and gotu kola (Centella asiatica)] protect blood vessels from damage, strengthen connective tissue and decrease inflammation.

4. Exercise

Everyone benefits from daily gentle exercise! A daily walk or cycle outside in the sunshine (ideally early morning or late afternoon and with someone else, because you’re more likely to reach your goals, rather than make excuses, if you’ve got support) boosts circulation by raising your heart rate for a short time and making muscles work to keep them strong and effective. For those with joint problems, an indoor heated pool is perfect – water walking is a great gentle resistance exercise that gets the heart going, but while completely supporting your body and minimising falls risks. If you have limited mobility, then chair yoga, air boxing or using a small stationary pedaller can keep your blood moving. Even sitting down to watch TV can be turned in to an active opportunity to improve circulation – start by air boxing or pedalling during one advertisement (usually 20-30sec), then over time slowly build to as many ads as you can!

5. Sunshine

Exercise outside has more than one benefit – apart from warming up freezing hands and noses, a session in the sun produces Vitamin D. Vitamin D is an essential component of healthy heart tissue, blood vessels, bones and hormones, including repair of damaged blood vessels! Vit D deficiency is considered to be a global problem, with between 50% and 100% of older adults low in Vit D (depending on location, season, age bracket and background). The most common causes are reduced production due to aging and environmental factors, but reduced intake of food sources contributes as well. You can make most of your required Vit D by exposing your skin to 15-30min of bright morning or late afternoon sunshine every day – midday sunshine may be tolerable in winter, but should be avoided in Australian summers due to extreme heat. You should aim to eat a daily portion of Vit D rich foods, such as fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel), beef liver, eggs or fortified dairy, juice or cereals, or consider taking a supplement during times when getting sunshine is harder than usual – Vit D3 (or cholecalciferol) is the same form that your body makes.

Remember, before starting any new exercise regime, herbs or supplements, check with your qualified health practitioner to maximise health benefits and minimise risks, especially if you are taking any medication or are recovering from injury or illness.

Can you eat your way to a better brain?

Can you eat your way to a better brain?

I often talk about the connection between the body and the mind, but what about the MIND diet?

The MIND diet is the happy hybrid of two other great diets – the Mediterranean and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. As you might have guessed, the MIND diet is heavy on vegetables and wholefoods, but it does go further to emphasise specific brain-healthy foods groups.

So far the evidence points to it assisting in slowing down age related negative effects on brain health.  This is particularly important given dementia is the second leading cause of death of women in Australia (behind heart disease).  While dementia is often thought of as a memory disorder, it’s more accurate to define it as a fatal brain failure – a terminal disease that can cause physical death.

In research studies, those who closely followed the diet had a 53% reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and a brain age 7.5 years younger than those who didn’t follow the principles.  Even those moderately following the diet benefited with a 35% reduction in Alzheimer’s risk compared with those who followed it loosely or not at all.

So what should you be eating??

Eat a rainbow across the week

No, this doesn’t mean you should only eat red things on Monday, yellow things on Wednesday, blue things on Friday and violet things on Sunday!

A central aspect of the MIND diet is its emphasis on a variety of healthy foods, as well as overall diet quality, rather than overly focusing on individual nutrients.  Aim for a wide variety of foods that includes colourful fruit, vegetables and legumes, as well as different types of wholegrain cereals, protein and plant-based oils.  If you’re comfortable with the Mediterranean diet, the MIND diet is just a few small inclusions away!

Green means go!

As always, green leafy vegetables are the superstars because they are nutritional goldmines. High in healthy-brain nutrients such as folate and flavonoids, as well as essential vitamins and minerals, eating several serves per day can slow your cognitive decline by as much as 11 years when compared to those who eat very little.

Berry nice…

If you want to really nourish your brain, berries – especially blueberries – are your low sugar, high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory winners.  Blueberries in particular are rich in polyphenols, plant compounds linked with beneficial changes for ageing.  Fresh or frozen makes no difference – aim to have a serve each day.  If blueberries are not an option for you, then plums, prunes, blackcurrants and black grapes (noticing a pattern here?) are also high in polyphenols.

Something fishy?

The fats you eat can affect brain health, given your brain is approximately 60% fat!  Eating daily serves of healthy fats, such as omega-3s found in oily fish, can help to limit inflammation and oxidation.  These are vital aspects of brain protection given oxidation plays a significant part in age-related cognitive decline.

Over two decades of research points out that Omega-3s (especially DHA) may help delay cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s disease. Eating more fish helped in slowing down age-related memory decline with even one fish meal per week lower dementia risk, however eating fish 2-3 times per week showed even better risk reduction.

Not all fish are created equal though – the best for your brain are the ones with the highest amounts of omega-3 fats.  Aim to eat sardines, mackerel, herring, salmon, trout, tuna and calamari.

Vegetarians or vegans aren’t left out either, as linseeds, hemp seeds and chia seeds are valuable plant sources of omega-3 fats.

What else is different?

The MIND diet focuses heavily on a variety of vegetables, nuts, beans, wholegrains, poultry, olive oil and red wine (in moderation!) because of the valuable nutrients in each of them.

It’s all about balance…

While foods that nourish the brain have beneficial effects, some foods can have the opposite effect when eaten too often.   Treats can be part of your life, but they shouldn’t be the core of your diet!

A diet high in processed foods (such as biscuits, snack foods, sweets, fried foods and processed meats) and even obesity appear to be a contributing factors to the development of age-related mental impairment.  While the mechanism behind the link is still largely unknown, future research will likely focus on the impact of insulin resistance, imbalanced gut bacteria and inflammation.

If you’re already following eating patterns that minimise heart disease risk, these may also protect against dementia development, especially Alzheimer’s disease.  A good rule of thumb is if it’s good for your heart, there’s a good chance it will be good for your brain!

 

Ready to start?

Want a taste of what you could be enjoying on the MIND diet?  Try these out!

 

  • Breakfast booster (GF) – Mix 2tbs seeds, ½ tsp cinnamon, 2tbs chopped walnuts and ½ cup blueberries. Add to morning yoghurt or porridge or yoghurt for flavour and brain boost.

 

  • Dried fruit and seed balls (GF, WF, DF, Veg/Vegan) – In a food processor mix ingredients until mixture starts to come together. Roll into balls, then roll in desiccated coconut to coat.  These high-fibre treats will help satisfy your chocolate cravings and are made with anti-inflammatory ingredients.
    • Date & ginger – 1 cup macadamia nuts, 1-2cm fresh ginger, ½ cup dates, ½ dried figs, ¼ cup cacao, ½ cup linseeds
    • Prune & almond – 1 cup soft pitted prunes, 1 cup almonds, ¼ cup cacao, ¼ cup goji berries, ½ tsp cinnamon, ½ cup sesame seeds.

 

  • Warm rainbow salad – This nutritionally fulfilling and colourful Mediterranean salad lets you swap ingredients according to taste or sensitivities. Toss together 2 potatoes (steamed & cubed), 1 can beans (cannellini, borlotti or butter beans), 2 handfuls leafy greens (baby spinach or rocket or even wild greens, if your garden has them!), 1 cup each of red and green salad vegetables (cherry tomatoes halved, red capsicum and red onion; sliced fennel and cucumber), some protein (1 tin mackerel in olive oil or 2 boiled eggs), ¼ cup black olives, 1-2 cloves minced garlic, large handful of chopped fresh herbs (dill, coriander or flat-leaf parsley), 30-50g goat’s or sheep’s feta, crumbled.  Dress with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and apple cider or wine vinegar.
5 Easy Health Changes That Will Have You Feeling Better Immediately!

5 Easy Health Changes That Will Have You Feeling Better Immediately!

Life is busy. Time is short. How are we supposed to look after ourselves when we’re looking after everyone else?

Everyone knows I have five basic rules to good health, but how can you incorporate them into your life?

Here are five ways to include positive steps into your life without thinking too much about it.

1. Eat Mindfully

This means paying active attention to your food with all five senses and noticing everything about it, before you even take your first bite! To start with, don’t eat while watching TV or reading as your attention is focused on something else. It will help you feel fuller and more satisfied with your meal earlier than when paying attention to something else, potentially stopping the urge to binge or consume excess food without even noticing.

2. Introduce Incidental Exercise

While not everyone can get off a stop early from the bus or train, take the stairs instead of the lift, or walk down to the corner shop instead of being tempted to drive, there are ways to include additional exercise in your day. It’s recommended that we exercise for at least half an hour every day, but it doesn’t have to be all at once. Doing small chunks of exercise might be easier and has been found to be just as beneficial to health.

3. Go On A Tech Fast

Taking temporary a time out from social media and constant availability to everyone via your mobile phone can help you slow down and relax. You can stop worrying about what everyone else is doing, give work a break (except when you’re at work, of course!) and be more mindfully  present with your family or loved ones.

4. Give Up Sugar

Just for a little while! Ok, so everyone is doing is and you’re probably sick of your neighbour/colleague/friend from school/sister-in-law telling you how sugar is bad and fruit causes all kinds of problems.  In all honestly, there’s likely no nutritionist who will tell you that free sugar (the extra that is added to drinks, coffee, tea, cakes, biscuits and sweets) is necessary for your health. Giving it up for a few weeks can help your skin and help you make better food choices.  If you quit for at least three weeks (ideally two months), you’ll help reset your sense of taste and need less of it in the future to reach the same level of satiety – win, win!

5. Set An Alarm

A regular bedtime can help you create strong and healthy sleep patterns.  Sleep is your scheduled maintenance and downtime – it’s absolutely essential for physical and mental health!  It’s too easy to lose track of time in the evenings and before you know it it’s nearly midnight (or later!). Why not set an alarm for sleep time, just like you do for wake time?

The Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet.

The Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet.

What exactly is a plant-based diet?

A plant-based diet is not a diet of vegetables alone. It is a diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, which may exclude or minimize animal products, including chicken, dairy products and eggs. The aim is to also exclude foods made from refined flour and sugar, and certain refined vegetable oils.

Be inspired by the delicious foods you can enjoy!  Many of these can be included as ingredients in familiar dishes you may want to prepare, such as pizza, mashed potatoes and burrito bases.

  • Fruit: mangoes, bananas, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, cherries, plums, lemons etc
  • Vegetables: lettuce, dark green veggie varieties, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, cabbage etc
  • Starchy vegetables: potatoes, yams, yucca, squash, peas, sweet potatoes, peas, green beans
  • Whole grains: millet, barley, brown rice, whole wheat products, oats, whole grain cereals
  • Legumes: All varieties of beans such as black beans, lima beans, kidney beans and cannellini beans, as well as legumes like chickpeas and lentils.

Iodized salt may be added to your food as it is a great source of iodine to help maintain a healthy thyroid, although excessive sodium intake should be avoided.

The basis of a plant-based diet

Starch-based foods and fruit form the basis of a whole-food plant-based diet. Leafy greens play an important part in the diet as they are very nutritious, but they are low in calories and may not provide enough calories, resulting in decreased energy levels and leave you feeling hungry.  When combined with starch-based foods (such as corn, peas, potatoes, etc) however, they provide fantastic all-round nourishment and keep the energy pumping.

The idea of a plant-based diet is not to eat one food for a single nutrient, such as oranges for vitamin C, but rather s a package of the foods that you enjoy, which contain all the essential nutrients to be of enormous benefit to your general health.

Health benefits of a plant based diet

  • A plant-based diet often lowers blood pressure because of the potassium- rich legumes and nuts
  • Plants contain no cholesterol (although some is required for hormone production, too much can be detrimental to your health)
  • The fibre in plants helps control high blood sugar by slowing down the absorption of sugars into the blood stream
  • A low fat, plant-based diet significantly lowers your risk of developing a variety of cancers
  • Weight management is easier when you eat wholesome, unrefined foods, lots of fibre, take in natural vitamins and minerals, while avoiding animal fats and sugary, floury foods
  • Research has shown that replacing saturated animal fats with mono-unsaturated fats (found in nuts, avocados and olive oil) substantially lowers your risk of cardiovascular and heart disease
  • Sugary and fatty foods contribute to systemic inflammation and can lead to other problems like constipation. The fibre in a plant based diet will also help keep your colon healthy.

The best way to start a plant-based diet

Changing to a vegetarian or almost vegan-type diet is not always easy, especially if you have not been a healthy eater in the pasts. Whether you want to embrace a fully plant-based diet, or perhaps keep some animal products as part of your diet is a decision that only you can make. But there is no doubt that reducing your meat intake, and following a plant diet is one of the best things you can do for your health.

If you are finding it difficult to immediately flip over to a new diet, here are some tips to help you on the way.

  • Begin with including legumes in your regular diet, as they are generally feel-good foods, will make you feel full and give you energy
  • You can also substitute one or two refined items with a plant-based food in a meal each day
  • Gradually exclude red meat from your diet.
  • If retaining chicken and fish in your diet, make sure that the chicken is skinless and opt for healthy fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna or mackerel for maximum omega 3 content.
  • Try replacing one or two days of your week’s meals with a full vegetarian meal.

Backed by science

The health benefits of a plant-based diet are supported by scientific research. Cardiac disease is rated as the biggest single cause of death in first world nations, mainly due to poor lifestyle habits and unhealthy diets.  Embracing a healthy diet can help lower your risk of a future heart attack and cardiovascular disease.