Gut Health

Gut Health

The importance of a healthy gut cannot be underestimated, but it is often something that is overlooked. How do you know if this is something of concern for you? Some signs and symptoms of having a gut issue can include one or more of the following symptoms: uncomfortable bloating, indigestion, appetite issues, excess wind, loose bowels, difficulty in moving bowels, moving bowels more than 3 times a day or less than once a day, pain or discomfort before or after eating, pain or discomfort in the gut, headaches, fatigue, bad breath and skin issues.

Gut health is an important part of health and wellbeing for everyone!

Why is our gut health so important? Did you know that your ‘gut’ starts at your mouth and finishes at your anus? This remarkable system known as the gastro-intestinal tract (GIT) contains blood vessels, nerve endings, mucosal tissue, muscle tissue, exocrine glands and accessory organs (gall bladder, liver, pancreas). Food enters the body to be digested, absorbed, metabolised (processed) and excreted.

The nerve cells lining the GIT are known as the enteric nervous system and they have a direct connection to our brain. Hence the term brain-gut connection. We all know the feeling of “butterflies” in our stomach before taking an exam or giving an important presentation. This refers to a fluttery sensation which can make us feel nervous, nauseous and makes our heart beat faster – a prime example of the brain-gut connection, which is a physical reaction to the psychlogical stress your brain is feeling.

This is why it is so important to be mindful of what we feed our brain and our body in terms of thoughts and food as these directly affect our brain and gut health.

Everything we consume needs to be digested effectively in order for our bodies to absorb and process all the required nutrients for life. 

Our top tips to improve your gut health:

  • Regularly achieve a relaxed state to relieve stress and improve digestion. When stressed the sympathetic nervous system dominates over the parasympathetic, directing blood flow and energy away from the digestive tract to the muscles and brain to co-ordinate fight or flight mode. Learning to calm the mind and body prior to meals will assist with digestion.
  • Chew food well and eat slowly to allow the start of the digestive process with enzyme release from salivary glands, triggering chemical digestion to commence in the stomach.
  • Eat unprocessed, natural whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, fish, dairy and meat to support energy levels, mood, strength, stamina, individual cellular processes and major organ function.
  • Include 7-10 serves daily of dark leafy greens and colourful vegetables in the diet, chop, slice, grate, raw, roast, or steam. One serve is one of your handfuls.
  • Include bitter foods such as radicchio, endive, mustard greens, chicory, dandelion leaves, cos, silverbeet and grapefruit to aid digestion by stimulating bile flow.
  • Ensure your daily diet contains fibre sourced from whole foods, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains.
  • Fermented foods contain pre and probiotics that support the GITs natural flora.
  • Drink 1.5-2L of filtered water and herbal teas daily.

If you want to learn more about your gut health, or if you are currently experiencing a gut related health issue such as IBS, IBD, Coeliac, Crohn’s, candida, dysbiosis, allergies, intolerances, skin issues, autoimmune disease, menstrual and menopausal issues, UTI’s or recurrent infections, you would benefit from making an appointment with one of our Holistic Medical Centre Health Practitioners. We can provide a thorough consultation and functional testing to investigate the root cause of your issues, and support you with a manageable treatment plan guiding you to your optimal health.

Please note: some people with gut issues are unable to tolerate high fibre, fermented or raw food diet, especially during acute phases of illness – consult your Holistic Medical Centre Naturopath for dietary guidance.

Deluxe Chocolate (Avocado) Mousse

Deluxe Chocolate (Avocado) Mousse

Most of you are by now familiar with the concept of using avocado instead of cream to create a delicious chocolate mousse. Avocado chocolate mousse contains an abundance of nutrients to support energy levels and keep you satiated. Just ensure you make enough to share with a friend!

Recipe serves 2-4

  • 2 Ripe Avocados
  • ¼ – ½ c plant based or cow’s milk (adjust for desired thickness)
  • 40gms raw cacao powder
  • ½ t vanilla extract
  • 1t honey, agave, maple or date syrup for extra sweetness if desired
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Optional toppings
  • Fresh or dried raspberries
  • Shredded coconut
  • Cacao nibs


  • Place all ingredients (you may need to adjust the amount of milk for desired thickness) for chocolate mousse into a blender or food processor.
  • Mix until smooth and creamy. It will look just like ‘chocolate mousse’.
  • Spoon into small bowls or glasses and decorate with raspberries and shredded coconut or cacao nibs.
  • Keep cool in the fridge.
  • Enjoy as dessert or in between meals as an energy boosting snack!




Exhaustion and Fatigue – Cause and Dietary Advice

Exhaustion and Fatigue – Causes and Dietary Advice

How many of you are dragging yourselves out of bed in the morning to get to the gym, take the kids to school, get to work, make another deadline, attend to a sick family member, keep the house/kids/job/partner happy, arrange extracurricular activities….. phew where is the YOU in this?

Or have you reduced your workload, cut out the gym, said no to that invitation, let the washing and the dishes accumulate, have no dependants, and you’re still exhausted?!

Exhaustion and fatigue can be the result of physical and/or emotional stressors. Each person will be effected differently and have a different perception of these effects. Acute or chronic illness, poor diet, abuse, over work, injury, grief, substance abuse, poor sleep, constant worry/fear, poor digestion, toxicity – the list is endless.

Firstly it is most important to have a thorough check up with your Holistic Medical Centre G.P. to rule out any underlying medical causes. It could be as simple as having a set of routine blood tests covering the following:

  • Full blood count
  • Iron studies
  • Thyroid function tests
  • Hormone levels
  • Liver and kidney function
  • Nutrient levels; Vitamin D, Zinc, Folate/B12, Magnesium

Further functional testing that can provide detailed information

  • DUTCH (Dried Urine testing for Comprehensive Hormones)
  • Salivary hormones and Adrenocortex stress profile
  • CDSA (Comprehensive Digestive Stool Analysis) or Bioscreen
  • OAT (Organic Acids Test)

Your Holistic Medical Centre Naturopath will provide a full and comprehensive personal assessment, looking at your signs and symptoms, health history, diet and lifestyle.

Some quick tips to help you get started on the right track:

  • Eat a diet of unprocessed whole natural foods, preferably organic
  • Eat an abundance of fresh colourful and dark leafy green vegetables. Aim for 5-10 servings a day (one serving is one of your handfuls)
  • Include healthy fats, at least 2 Tablespoons per serve of avocado, olive oil, walnuts, chia seeds, sardines, organic eggs
  • Keep hydrated with 1.5-2L of filtered water daily
  • Get 30-60mins of safe sun exposure daily
  • Gentle daily movement, walks in nature, yoga/tai chi, swimming
  • Spend time feeling joyful, watch funny cats on youtube, play guitar, sing

Quinoa and Broccoli Salad

Quinoa and Broccoli Salad

  • 1 head broccoli
  • 1 red onion
  • ½  cucumber
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • ½ tsp. Celtic sea salt
  • 2-3 tsp. Organic Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. chopped parsley or coriander


  • Cook ½ cup quinoa with 1 cup water, once cooked allow to cool.
  • Chop broccoli into rice-sized pieces, add finely chopped onions. Sprinkle sea-salt and allow to soften for 20 minutes to soften. Add quinoa, cucumber, olive oil and fresh herbs.
  • Broccoli and onion are both rich in a specific a flavonoid antioxidant known as quercetin – a natural anti-histamine which can help stabilize the release of histamine within the body.
  • Discover more tips on how to reduce hayfever symptoms on naturally here!

Allergies – Hay fever: Allergic Rhinitis

Tips for reducing hayfever symptoms naturally

Hay fever also known as allergic rhinitis affects 20% of New Zealand’s, for some it is only experienced for a short duration of the year – most commonly through spring and summer and can vary in duration and severity.

Exaggerated immune responses to these common allergens are usually triggered by wind borne allergens from trees, grasses, weeds, mould spores, dust mites and animal dander.  This can lead to an exaggerated immune response by inhaling, touching or ingesting these commonly found culprits.  Symptoms can include runny nose, stuffy nose, coughing or an itchy throat, bouts of sneezing, irritated and watery eyes.

As part of the body’s response to these allergens, the body secretes a compound called ‘histamine’ in response to allergies, and causes dilation of capillaries leading to the unwanted symptoms. While it’s impossible to avoid the outdoors all together, there are certain ways to ease the body’s response to allergens.

Tips to reduce Histamine:

  • Avoid High Histamine Level Foods:
    • Alcohol
    • Pickled or canned foods
    • Matured cheese
    • Smoked meats: salami, ham, sausages
    • Shellfish
    • Beans and pulses: chickpeas, soy beans, peanuts
    • Nuts: walnuts, cashews
    • Cocoa based products
    • Vinegar
    • Salty snacks or sweets with preservatives and artificial colouring
  • Avoid foods that trigger the release of histamine:
    • Eggs, corn, wheat, yeast, dairy products, citrus fruits, food additives and preservatives
  • Increase Vitamin C intake
    • Food sources include: pawpaw, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, grapefruit, tomatoes, cabbage, and strawberries. *Citrus has been excluded as this can trigger the response of histamine.
  • Increase intake of quercetin rich foods:
    • Onions, garlic, capsicum, apples, blueberries
    • Cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, broccoli sprouts
  • Lifestyle suggestions to reduce pollen:
    • Wash bedding and dry either in clothes dryer if windy day or you are mowing lawns.
    • Vacuum 2-3 times per week especially if you have pets – use a vacuum that has a Hepa-Filter such as a Dyson vacuum.
    • Avoid going out when it is dry and windy as pollen release is increased on a warm, dry, windy day whereas rain washes the air clean of pollens.

To find out more on how you can decrease the symptoms of your allergies, book in to see a naturopath at the Holistic Medical Centre on 09 370 0650.

7 Positive Side Effects of Acupuncture

7 Positive Side Effects of Acupuncture

Most people find their love for acupuncture following initial treatment for musculoskeletal issues.  Through treatment for existing pain, they become aware other aspects of their health are improving.  Yes, acupuncture will help your neck, shoulder and lower back pain, but the benefits for your health and wellbeing are much more far-reaching. These are several positive side effects of acupuncture most often reported:

Improved sleep – within Chinese medicine, one falls asleep easily, sleeping consistently throughout the night, opening eyes only when the sun rises.  One of the best side effects of regular acupuncture treatment is better sleep.  Reducing pathological habits resulting in difficulty falling asleep, light sleeping, thirst at night, vivid dreaming, nocturia, waking at intervals and night sweating.  Good sleep is a foundation to healing in the body and is always added as a treatment protocol if needed.

Digestion – What we eat is the easiest way to build more Qi (energy) and make us stronger.  Acupuncture aids absorption and regulates digestion.  In most treatment protocols the Spleen energy (digestion) is examined, with dietary and lifestyle advice.  Repetitive injuries can be due to irregular diet or digestion issues, causing weakness.

Boosts immunity – As any imbalances are regulated in the body, acupuncture builds your bodies Qi and positively affects the T cells in the body, making one less susceptible to cold and flu as well as aiding unpleasant symptoms of the winter season.

Reduced Stress – Many people start noticing how much better they are coping with their stress.  Often we hear how something previously bothersome no longer affects them.  They are making better lifestyle choices for work-life balance and fitting more gentle exercise in.  Acupuncture is one of the best ways to ward off the negative effects of stress on the body.

Reduced anxiety and depression – Research has shown that acupuncture greatly reduces anxiety and depression.  It stimulates the neurotransmitters increasing serotonin and endorphins in the body.

Regulates the emotions – Often we get told that the highs and lows of emotions have evened out throughout treatment.  People say the traffic is not making them angry, or they are not yelling at their children so much.

Regulate menstruation – Many women say a positive side effect in balancing the Qi in the body is that their menstrual cycle is better with reduced pain and less premenstrual symptoms.

Acupuncture is a holistic approach to healthcare providing individualised treatment.

We are ACC registered practitioners feel free to contact us to talk about any pain you might be experiencing or ask how acupuncture can help your body heal.  We are available Mondays, Tuesday and Thursdays at the Holistic Medical Centre.  Visit to contact us or make a reservation.

Ashwagandha: Nature’s Gift for Anxiety

Ashwagandha: Nature’s Gift for Anxiety

Ashwagandha is probably one of the most popular and prescribed herbal medicines at the Holistic Medical Centre, by our doctors and naturopaths alike. As a result, we thought this wonderful herb deserved a special introduction of its own.

Also commonly known as Withania, ashwagandha is a herb native to India, Northern Africa, and the Middle East. It has been prescribed by Ayurvedic practitioners for thousands of years and has many studies supporting its safety and efficacy. Traditionally, the herb has been used to support convalescence after a period of illness. However, its ability to reduce anxiety symptoms, boost mood and strengthen the body against stress and fatigue has made it a valuable tool for combatting these common ailments of modern society.

Through supporting adrenal performance, calming the nervous system, and enhancing immunity and brain function, ashwagandha has an excellent all round ability to support individuals through prolonged stressful periods that all too often result in further health disturbances. As a result, the herb has become a firm favourite in our practice for helping our patients to cope with stress and anxiety, as well as reducing associated symptoms such as mood and sleep disturbances, heart palpitations, feelings of overwhelm, and heightened sensitivity to stimulation.

Preliminary trials have found ashwagandha to be as effective as some prescription anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs. Additionally, it has been shown to lower the production of the stress hormone cortisol which is often elevated in stressed individuals (on the flip side, it can also increase cortisol in people with low levels of this hormone). It is thought to exert many of its calming effects affects via stimulation of GABA activity – a natural hormone produced by our bodies to calm and relax us.

As with many herbs, ashwagandha has numerous beneficial therapeutic actions that make it an excellent medicinal herb to use for the many conditions associated with or exacerbated by, anxiety, these include:

  • Reducing anxiety and calming the nervous system
  • Protecting against the effects of stress
  • Improving sleep quality
  • Enhancing learning and memory
  • Increasing libido in men and women
  • Supporting convalescence after illness
  • Enhancing immune function
  • Helping ease inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and painful joints

So you can see why we find this herb so beneficial in our practice!

Diet and lifestyle also have an important role to play in reducing anxiety.

Alongside herbal support, it is so important to look at our daily nutritional intake and lifestyles, and how they may be contributing to our symptoms. Two important aspects to consider in anxiety are dietary and breathing patterns.

Fluctuations in blood-sugar levels can trigger the release of our stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol which in turn can trigger anxiety symptoms such as shaking, heart palpitations, and heightened awareness. Regular consumption of alcohol and sugary foods will cause an initial rise in blood sugars, followed by a corresponding drop. During the high you tend to feel relaxed and alert, while the drop can leave you feeling anxious and shaky. This is because your body responds to low blood-sugar levels by releasing adrenaline and cortisol in order to bring your glucose levels back into balance. If you find yourself constantly turning to sweet foods or caffeinated drinks for energy then this is a sign that you will be experiencing some degree of blood sugar fluctuations.

Coffee consumption can double the levels cortisol and adrenaline released, as well block the production of GABA – one of our feel good, calming hormones. Thus, in susceptible individuals, coffee consumption can lead to worsened anxiety. In fact, ask any anxiety expert and they will confirm that the food that most readily stimulates anxiety is coffee!

The best way to avoid blood sugar fluctuations, as well as unnecessary adrenaline and cortisol release is to limit your consumption of caffeine and limit sugary or refined carbohydrate foods like breads, muffins, biscuits and sweets in preference for whole complex carbohydrates, quality fats, fibre and protein. The thought of going without a daily coffee and muffin break can be horrific for some people, but rest assured there are some wonderful alternatives. Likewise, many people are unaware that their diet may be low in protein or quality fats, so often getting a little support and advice from one of our naturopaths can make a big difference here.

Anxious people often breathe in their upper chest, using short, shallow breaths, rather than breathing into their lower chest. Upper chest breathing mimics the rapid shallow breath that we switch on in stressful situations and can exacerbate and even trigger anxiety symptoms.  Ideally, we should spend the majority of our time using gentle, lower chest breathing which utilizes our diaphragm muscle and turns off our stress response – helping us to feel calmer and focused. Take a minute to observe what your breathing habit is – you may be surprised! Correcting your breathing patterns takes practice and commitment – but it can be done. Try starting with the simple breathing practice below.

At the Holistic Medical Centre, we combine our medical expertise with naturopathic healthcare and disciplines, including herbal medicines, lifestyle and nutritional advice. The combination of these practices allows us to limit the need for medications where appropriate, while at the same time provide effective and supportive treatment for our patients. Herbal medicines are generally safer than prescription drugs, and pose no addiction concerns. Therefore, wherever possible we seek to find herbal and lifestyle solutions for your anxiety issues.

Ashwagandha is a very safe herb with very few reported side-effects. However, as with all herbal medicines, it should not be taken without supervision by a qualified practitioner.

Breathe out: breathing practice to reduce anxiety

Belly breathing is easy to do and very relaxing.  Try this basic exercise anytime you need to relax or relieve stress.  It can be practiced at home, in the shower, at the traffic lights – anywhere when you have a few minutes to sit or relax quietly.  I recommend practicing this 3 times daily when you can as it will really help to encourage relaxation and switch off stress.


  • Sit in a comfortable position.
  • Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest.
  • Take a slow gentle breath in through your nose to a count of 2, and let your belly push your hand out.  Your chest should not move.
  • Pause for 2.
  • Breathe out gently through your nose to a count of 3. You can do this through pursed lips as if you were whistling if your nose is blocked or runny.
  • Feel the hand on your belly go in slightly as you breathe out.
  • Do this breathing 3 to 10 times.  Take your time with each breath.

Good Posture: Why should we bother?

Good Posture: Why should we bother?

Your posture provides the foundation for every movement your body makes and can determine how well the body adapts to the variety of stresses placed on it. In many cases, posture is also an important factor in addressing complaints ranging from hip pain to headaches. For example, it is a fact that many people with ongoing low back pain habitually adopt a slouched or flexed position when sitting that actually exacerbates their pain. While many people are aware that altering their posture may have positive effects, unfortunately, it usually isn’t as simple as sitting up straight.

For most of us, good posture conjures images of erect spines, retracted shoulders with a plumb line running from ears to ankles like the Queen’s Guard, standing to attention outside Buckingham Palace. This preconception results in the most common strategy that people attempt to improve their posture, forcing themselves to sit straighter. While it is certainly possible to adjust posture by sheer willpower, for most of us it simply isn’t feasible to maintain attention on our posture for more than a couple of minutes before the distractions of everyday life intervene and we end up falling back into old habits. The next issue that is often encountered is that sitting straight doesn’t always feel natural, in some cases it actually makes people feel worse. Over working all of your postural muscles may actually make them more sensitive and painful than relaxing them and allowing yourself to slouch a bit could actually be more beneficial than straining to sit up straight.  The truth is that ideal posture is unique to each person and depends on their particular structure and there really is no one size fits all solution.

If you believe that your posture is contributing to a problem, or you simply want to try to improve your posture here are some tips that may help get you sitting or standing a little more comfortably.

How to improve your posture

Lay the foundation for change with osteopathy

It can be really challenging to change your posture if you are already in pain, so it is a great idea to address the pain before trying to change your posture. Muscle pain is often very responsive to manual therapy so a visit to your osteopath will help set up the best environment for postural change. For example, you may find that sitting upright feel much better in the low back but then may lead to a niggly pain in the hip. This is an example of an impairment in hip movement that doesn’t allow the spine to return to a neutral position. Osteopaths are great at finding these impairments and helping you unravel them.

Sort out your sleep

Fatigue can be a significant barrier to changing any habits including posture. Enacting some simple sleep hygiene may be enough, but persistent insomnia may require a visit to your naturopath or GP. Some useful tips can be found on the Holistic Medical Centre blog here

Use external cues

Old postural habits die hard, especially if you aren’t even aware of them. A few strategic post it notes, a reminder on your phone or asking friends and family to remind you to reset your posture can all be valuable ways of shifting stubborn postural habits.


What sort of exercise? Really any will do. There are a number of reasons that increasing activity is a good idea beyond the potential benefits to your posture. There is plenty of evidence to show that sedentary lifestyles lead to deconditioning of muscle, including those oh so important postural muscles. Choosing something challenging and yet engaging will eventually lead to your body adapt to the demands placed upon it regardless of whether it is weight lifting or water-skiing. So just get moving and focus on activities you enjoy. Easy!

Spend some time on the floor

Our ancestors evolved in an environment without couches, lazy boys and ergonomic office chairs. Their world was composed solely of hard jagged things. Spending even 5 minutes a day in one of the archetypal human postures of squatting, kneeling or sitting cross-legged is a great way of introducing some much-needed variety into our postures and can help reactivate some of those atrophied postural muscles.

Final thoughts

Good posture is about being able to adapt to the variety of demands placed on the body, thus allowing for efficient movement in a pain-free and easy way. If you can meet these requirements then you probably don’t need to worry too much about your posture, regardless of how it looks. Is there really such as thing as perfect posture? The simple answer is no, not really. A healthy posture can be thought of in much the same way that we think of a healthy diet. Variety is important for both. If you would like help with your posture you can call Alastair on 021 166 0254 or book online at for an assessment.


Winter Wellness from Your Naturopath

Winter wellness tips from your naturopath

As the cool winter months set in many people find that they are more prone to catching coughs and colds and other airborne viruses. Rather than await your wintery fate, it can be a good idea to consider a few supplements and dietary changes to help increase your immunity and ward off the winter ills and chills naturally.

One of the most powerful ways to boost your natural defenses against the winter bugs is through diet and lifestyle. By following the steps below you will be on a fast track to a healthier winter!

  • Eat plenty of leafy greens that are rich in immune-enhancing phytonutrients.
  • Enjoy foods rich in vitamin C.  Some of your best winter food sources of vitamin C are parsley, kiwi fruit, citrus fruits, leafy greens, red capsicum and fresh sprouts.
  • Include antimicrobial, immune boosting herbs and spices in your daily diet  – ginger, turmeric, garlic, rosemary, and thyme are all excellent options.
  • Get adequate, good quality sleep. Sleep has a powerful regulatory effect on your immune system.  Studies show that sleep deprivation can lead to compromised immune function, leaving you more at risk of catching coughs and colds.
  • Enjoy regular exercise. Exercise will not only boost immune function but also stress resilience.

There are a number of herbs and supplements that have proven immune boosting properties and can be very beneficial to take at this time of year, below are just a few examples of the numerous tools you have on hand to support your good health through winter!


Did you know roughly 80% of your immune system resides in your gut! Thus, a healthy immune system depends on a healthy gut. Probiotics supplements may help reduce the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections as well as supporting your immunity generally.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D has excellent immune enhancing properties as well as significantly reducing the risk of respiratory infections in children. This valuable nutrient also takes quite a dip through the winter months as your sunlight exposure drops naturally.  It is best to talk to a qualified health practitioner before supplementing with vitamin D as this is one of those vitamins where too little and too much can be dangerous.


Zinc can help to prevent or decrease the duration of sore throats and respiratory infections that are so common in winter.  As zinc is generally low in New Zealand soils, deficiencies are commonly found here. We generally recommend most people take a zinc supplement for three months during winter. Excess doses can cause gastric upset and nausea so it is important to talk to your health provider to find the correct dose for you.

Astragalus and Echinacea

Astragalus and echinacea are two powerful immune-supportive herbs that can help to prevent the occurrence of coughs, colds and respiratory tract infection, as well as shorten the duration and severity of these winter ills. Astragalus also has “adaptogenic” properties, which means it helps your body better deal with the effects of emotional and physical stress – both of which can compromise immune health and function.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C supports white blood cell activity, which in turn helps to fight off infection and improve your immune resilience.  It is useful to take a loading dose of vitamin C at the first sign of infection.  As vitamin C is a water soluble nutrient, it cannot be stored for a long time in the body, so small regular daily doses are important. A buffered vitamin C in a drink bottle (ideally glass) sipped throughout the day over a handful of days is a good way to top up your vitamin C levels without upsetting your digestion.

If you are particularly prone to recurrent infections at this time of year then booking in a naturopathic appointment to have a full assessment may be a wise investment.  We will be able to prepare a treatment plan with individual herbs and supplements tailored to your specific needs.

Children can be particularly at risk of respiratory infections, viruses and flus during the winter time as their immune systems are still developing, and they are often picky when it comes to eating healthy immune boosting- foods.  A naturopath can help you to develop dietary strategies as well investigate other factors that may be contributing to your child’s compromised health, such as food intolerances, nutritional deficiencies and digestive imbalances.

Prevention is always better than cure – and can save you a lot of time and energy in the long run!

Perimenopause – could this explain your symptoms?

Perimenopause – could this explain your symptoms?

We have all heard of the term menopause – the time of life when a woman naturally stops ovulating, and as such her periods cease and her oestrogen and progesterone levels drop off. Menopause usually occurs between the ages of 48-55 years and can result in a varying degree of uncomfortable symptoms including hot flashes, vaginal dryness and sleeping problems.

However, many women in their 40s can be surprised to experience menopausal-type afflictions, most commonly hot flashes, mood swings, insomnia, shortened menstrual cycles, and lighter or heavier periods, or a combination of the two. These symptoms can be difficult to manage and greatly interfere with quality of life. They can also understandably cause confusion and concern…Am I going through menopause when I am only 41?!

Most likely this is not the case. Rather it can be the lesser-known transitional period of perimenopause that can last anything from 2-10 years plus and often produces more discomfort than menopause. It usually begins around the age of 45 but can start from anything up to 10 years prior. The symptoms of perimenopause are most commonly caused by wildly fluctuating oestrogen levels, which lead the individual on a roller-coaster ride of emotions and hormonal disturbances. Elevated oestrogen levels result in irritability, fluid retention, painful breasts and heavy menstrual flow, while a plummet to low oestrogen triggers hot flashes, night sweats and depression.

Declining levels of the feel-good, anti-anxiety hormone progesterone further exacerbates these symptoms. The majority of a woman’s progesterone is produced during ovulation, thus progesterone levels naturally decrease during perimenopause as ovulation becomes less frequent. This decline can be buffered somewhat by progesterone secretion from the adrenal glands. However since the adrenal glands are also responsible for producing the stress hormone cortisol, if a woman is highly stressed, then adrenal progesterone production will be dialed down in preference for cortisol production.

Sadly, perimenopause is barely recognised as a condition that needs support, yet women going through this transition are clearly very vulnerable and have much higher rates of anxiety, insomnia and depression. Add to this, one of the most stressful periods of a woman’s life – often busy with careers and family, and you have a recipe for melt down!

How to support the perimenopause

Fortunately at the Holistic Medical Centre there are many natural ways our naturopaths and doctors can help prevent and alleviate the discomfort of perimenopause.

Oestrogen balance

Firstly by using natural supplements we can help prevent oestrogen levels fluctuating too wildly. Some of the supplements we may recommend include:

DIM (diindolylmethane ) is an extract from broccoli that helps detoxify and clear oestrogen levels safely and naturally. We stock a lot of this on our shelves as it works so well!

Iodine makes your body less sensitive to oestrogen and helps to balance oestrogen levels. We often recommend it when breast tenderness or low thyroid function may be an issue. We do not recommend high dosing iodine, however, as high levels can cause thyroid problems.

Herbs such as milk thistle, dandelion root and bupleurum improve clearance of oestrogen via the liver and bowels and can improve uncomfortable symptoms of breast tenderness, fluid retention and anxiety.

Progesterone support

The herb chaste tree (Vitex angus castus) can be used to help balance progesterone levels through promoting regular ovulation. It can also make the body more sensitive to progesterone, thus helping to counterbalance the effects of high or low oestrogens.

In more severe cases, natural progesterone can be prescribed by our doctors. It is a safe and effective way to increase progesterone levels and buffer the effects of fluctuating oestrogen levels. We recommend regular monitoring when using natural progesterone.

Magnesium is a great tension reliever, helping with the symptoms of stress and sleep disturbances. It is also helps modulate cortisol production and assists with the manufacture of progesterone thereby helping to support healthy levels of this balancing hormone.  We often prescribe taurine alongside magnesium. Taurine is an amino acid that helps promote a full night’s sleep and calm the mind. It is often depleted in women who have elevated oestrogen levels.

Ashwaganda is a wonderful herb to use during the perimenopause, or for any stressful period in your life (and great for your partners too!). Its many actions include: improving mood, reducing anxiety and irritability, enhancing energy and concentration, as well as helping to induce sleep.

We recommend any supplements and herbs are prescribed in the context of a clinical consultation to ensure they are being prescribed to meet your specific health needs.

Alongside herbs and natural supplements, making some simple dietary and lifestyle adjustments can help you  to maintain a balanced oestrogen profile.

Diet and lifestyle tips

  • Reduce alcohol – aim to have at least 3-4 nights alcohol free per week, and no more than 2 standard drinks. Alcohol is a liver loader and as such hinders your liver’s capacity to detoxify oestrogens.
  • Flaxseeds are a rich source of fibre that helps you to bind and eliminate unwanted oestrogens from your gut. They are also a source of phytoestrogens that can help to modulate oestrogen levels in the body.
  • Enjoy fermented foods in your daily diet, or take a good quality probiotic to encourage healthy intestinal bacteria. Gut bacteria help to breakdown oestrogens ready for excretion.
  • Eat plenty of gorgeous green and brightly coloured vegetables! Veggies support your liver’s ability to clear oestrogen, and also provide valuable fibre to feed your gut bacteria and assist with regularity – helping your body to remove unwanted oestrogens.
  • Avoid or minimize dairy. Dairy can increase insulin levels leading to blood sugar fluctuations, weight gain and enhanced oestrogen activity. Dairy also contains cow oestrogens that can further add fuel to the fire.
  • Exercise regularly and eat wisely to maintain a healthy body weight to reduce oestrogen build up. A certain type of oestrogen, Oestrone, is produced by our body fat cells and this can exacerbate problems in our 40s.
  • Be mindful of exposure to xenoestrogens such as plastics, pesticides, cleaning products and cosmetics containing parabens, fabric softeners and dry cleaning chemicals. Our naturopaths will be able to support you to find healthier alternatives.

If this sounds like you, or someone you know, please don’t suffer this out – there is plenty we can do to support you, and we would like to help! Our naturopaths and holistic doctors are available for appointments and will be able to provide you with a personalized treatment plan to support your needs.