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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.

Does Good Health Begin with Gut-Health?

Does Good Health Begin with Gut-Health?

What Is Gut-Health?
There has been lots of talk recently about what has become known as “gut-health.” The Johns Hopkins Medical Center, one of the most well-respected hospitals and Medical Schools in the United States, notes there is a good reason for this. Hidden within the walls of your digestive system is what is known as “your second brain” and this “brain in your gut” is changing the way that we look at the links between mood, digestion, health and even the way that we think.

Does Disease Begin with Gut-Health?
There’s no simple answer to this one. Not all diseases start in the gut, such as genetic or inherited diseases, acquired infections and trauma based disorders. But, there is evidence that many of chronic metabolic disorders and mental health conditions do begin in the gut, or are at least heavily influences by gut health. We can help prevent these diseases by following some easy steps.

Step 1: Know What Second Brain Is and Why It Matters
This “little brain” is called the “enteric nervous system” or ENS and it comprises of two thin layers of over 100 million nerve cells that line your GI tract from your esophagus to your rectum. The role of the ENS is to control digestion, including swallowing, releasing enzymes that help break food down, and control of blood flow to immediate tissues which aids with both nutrient absorption and elimination. The ENS communicates with our brain and body surprisingly effectively.

When you have an unhealthy gut the symptoms may manifest in other parts of your body. It’s your body trying to tell you that something is wrong or out of balance and needs attention.

Studies have found that increasing your gut-health can lead to improvements in:
• Immune function – 80% of our immune system is located in our guts
• Brain function
• Symptoms of disproportional anger, sadness, anxiety and depression
• Obesity
• Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
• Allergies
• Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

How Is This Even Possible?
The ENS may ‘sense’ things that our cerebral brain can’t. Evidence has been found that when the GI tract is irritated it sends signals to the central nervous system (CNS), which can trigger our mood and ultimately affect it. Considering that between 30%-40% of the population have bowel problems of some kind and a high percentage of these individuals develop depression and/or anxiety, it’s reasonable to consider a possible connection.

Our bodies are filled with bacteria – good and bad, depending on whether they’re where they’re supposed to be in the right numbers. There are more bacteria in a human body than there are cells and there are an estimated 100 trillion microorganisms living in our bowels alone.  The key here is to have more good than bad bacteria in your gut.

Probiotics help us do things like:
• Digest food;
• Absorb nutrients;
• Break down medications; and
• Kill some of the bad bacteria that lead to negative symptoms.

Step 2: Get More Probiotics
There are quite a few ways to get good gut bacteria, but one of the easiest is to take a supplement called a probiotic. There are many different kinds and brands and talking to your qualified naturopath will ensure you get the the most appropriate one for your needs.

There are foods that are also high in probiotics, including:
• Kefir
• Yoghurt
• Tempeh
• Miso
• Sauerkraut
• Apple Cider Vinegar
• Kimchi
• Kombucha

Getting more probiotics into your system is one of the best ways that to improve your gut-health!

Step 3: Play in The Dirt!
This is true both literally and figuratively. Gardening is good for getting outside, exercise, and putting your hands in soil introduces your body to the microorganisms that are found on the plants and in the ground.
In a more figurative way, and leading on from last months post, avoid over-cleaning with antimicrobial substances.  There has been a recent push to reduce the amount of antimicrobial agents in cleaning and personal care products because both good and the bad are affected.  Pets are another way to get dirtier – in a good way!  Studies have shown that children who grow up with a dog have both a lower risk of allergies and a generally healthier immune system.  Dog companionship also helps in other ways by increasing exercise and outdoor time and lowering stress.

Bonus Step: More Probiotics, What Else?
Now we get to the ones we hate to be told because they’re painfully obvious.  Stress Less. Laugh More. Stress, especially long-term stress, not only affects our gut bacteria, but also affects the production of hormones and neurochemicals. In long-term stress these chemicals and hormones can change permanently (unless you specifically work to change them back). Long-term stress may also lead to high blood pressure, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD), stomach ulcers, IBD, IBS, and potentially food allergies/intolerances.

Laughter really is the best medicine. It helps to reduce stress and floods your body with happy hormones and neurochemicals. This study even compared healthy people and those with atopic dermatitis (a condition often associated with gut bacteria imbalances) and asked participants watch funny movies daily for one week. In only one week, the patients’ gut microbes had changed and more resembled that of the healthy participants!

Conclusion
It may well be that a large part of maintaining good health is maintaining good gut-health. There are many ways that you can do this, however, some of the easiest changes that you can make include:
• Probiotics – through supplements and food
• Laughter
• Stress management, including exercise and time outdoors
• Avoiding over-cleaning and overuse of antimicrobials

 

Have we become too clean?

Have we become too clean?

There are a few ideas I’ve been toying with to do with how overt cleanliness is more closely linked with anxiety or desire for control and the effect this is having on our physical and mental health.  It’s an extremely complicated area and there are so many variables at play that it is certainly difficult to unravel them from one another – so why unravel?  Let’s look at the whole mess and see where we end up!
 
We live in a society that values cleanliness – I mean, we’ve all heard that “cleanliness is next to godliness”, right? There is also the obsession with ‘clean’ eating (which is not strictly the same kind of clean, but funnily enough also ties into the same areas of anxiety, desire for control and need to eliminate all ‘bad’ things from ones life).  So why is it that we are living longer, yet the quality of our lives (especially in the last few decades) is plummeting?  Increased rates of allergies and intolerances are certainly popping up in my clinic, but is it all down to better diagnostic techniques or is there something more to it?
Where antimicrobial gels and sanitisers were once only used in hospitals and labs, they are now staples in many handbags, nappy bags and backpacks.  In Australian society, showering morning and night (or even more often!) using surprisingly harsh products is widely accepted, despite the massive amount of water used and detergent run-off damaging our water systems – those who shower less often or with minimal detergents are seen as inherently dirty and somehow even unvirtuous.  The use of bleach or ammonia based cleaning products is standard in many homes, yet we still seem to be getting sicker.
Is the obsession with super-clean homes and bodies starting to kill us?  Not only are we avoiding useful triggers in building a healthy immune system, increasing rates of allergies and adverse reactions to innocuous triggers (the hygiene hypothesis of allergy), but the massive rise in the use of chemically based anti-microbials in cleaning supplies and personal care products (as opposed to primarily mechanical cleaning using plain soap and water) is not only wiping out the bacteria in your home, but also on your skin and potentially in your gut.
 
Why is this important?
 
Coupled with the overuse of antibiotics, we are losing our most important companions – our bacteria. The bacteria that we have in our gut and throughout our bodies are essential for so many processes, from aiding digestion to producing Vit K to even modulating mental health.  By destroying the delicate balance of microbes in and around us, we are perhaps doing far more harm than good.  ‘Fixing’ a broken microbiome is not a quick and easy task, taking months or years to repair damage to a multitude of systems.  Perhaps minimising the damage in the first place would be a far better (and more sustainable) option.
Reframing: Lifting the weight of the past

Reframing: Lifting the weight of the past

I am seeing a patient this month for unexplained weakness and perceived weight loss.  In the course of six months, he lost his mother and best friend (both overseas), cut his alcohol intake and started an almost vegetarian diet and very small portion sizes.

He’s not stressed, he tells me – he’s just a little sad. I can see right away that he is more than just a little sad.  He looks exhausted and drained and burdened.  As we talk, he reveals that he is sleeping fine – a few hours a night.  That his appetite is fine – for one or two small meals per day.  That his mood is fine – except that he last felt happy months ago.  That his energy levels were fine – except he was so tired.  He eventually concedes that maybe things are not all that fine after all.

I ask him about whether he’d considered grief counselling and he laughed and said he ‘doesn’t believe in that stuff’!  On the other hand, he did listen carefully to how much ‘that stuff’ can affect him not only physically in the here and now, but also when looking back at his life and reliving many of the moments triggered by the passing of two people so close to him.  He carries the memories and emotions of these experiences as heavy weights which have only seemed heavier in the last few months.  Is it truly any wonder he was feeling weaker?

I had set him a difficult task this month – to actively pay tribute and explore those memories, and to reframe them.  Some of the guilt, anger and sadness he has been carrying for decades will lift as he is able to see the events and the people involved from a different angle.  He cannot change the events, but he can change how he feels about them.  By changing his feelings surrounding these events, he is able to change his thoughts.  What’s more, by practicing this skill, he will be better able to assess future experiences and reframe them at the time, rather than (at times) years later after they have had time to become an almost permanent fixture in his psyche.

At the end of the month, he has filled pages in his journal with moments from the last 40 years that he can look back on now with a completely different vision.  It was not easy, but it was essential.  He will be able to carry those memories far more easily.

What appeared to be on the surface a simple case of nutritional inadequacy had a far deeper component.  I often mention that the mind and body are so closely linked that changing something small in one can have tremendous effects on the other – why not guide those effects in the best direction possible?