Low Winter Moods

Low Winter Moods

Winter can often be a hard time of the year mood wise. For some people, it’s accompanied by a lower mood than during the lighter months of the year. Looking at what may cause such a change in mood, it is evident that there are a number of different of factors involved. These include lifestyle changes such as isolation, reduced physical exercise, changes in nutrition and fewer interactions with people throughout the winter months. As psychologists however, we often meet people who cannot seem to explain why they feel more flat, unmotivated, low and very tired. Sometimes it sneaks in gradually, but for some it feels more as thought a switch has turned all of a sudden.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) commonly has an onset during fall and can linger around to the start of spring, sometimes longer. SAD is a form of depression that is related to the seasonal changes in the level of daylight we have access to, and has an effect on our circadian rhythm, D vitamin levels, lifestyle and hence our mood.

In the northern hemisphere this is a known phenomenon arising from the lack of daylight. There it is not uncommon to see people visiting “light cafes” where they sit in front of specially designed lamps thought to correct the delays in our circadian rhythm during the winter months. Others may supplement with vitamin D as an additional measure, as the ultraviolet-B rays are more limited in winter which impacts of the absorption of D vitamin. Some may see a therapist to get some extra support.  Hence, if low winter moods are a common pattern for you, it can be wise to see your health practitioner for an overall “warrant of fitness” to check levels of important nutrients and minerals, particularly in the lead up to winter.

The characteristics of SAD are the same as major depression but they normally subside with the change in seasons. People may notice some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Lack of energy and motivation
  • Low mood
  • Sleeping too much and difficulty waking up in the morning
  • Feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities they would normally enjoy
  • Difficulties in focusing and making decisions
  • Thoughts of death and suicidal ideation
  • Withdrawal from social interactions
  • Some may experienced a reduced libido
  • Increased sense of agitation
  • Changes in appetite and craving carbohydrates more than during other times of the year

However, there are a number of things you can do during the winter months to improve mood. Although looking after ourselves is important at all times of the year, it can be wise for those more prone to lower winter moods to plan ahead, and do some preparation when we’re feeling more at ease.

One such solution is to create some good, simple and realistic routines; creating opportunities for social interactions, focusing on nutrition or engaging in forms of exercise that are not limited to the summer months. Your local community centre will have a good overview of what activities and workshops are available in your area.

It is also wise to try and get as much daylight as possible. Get outside, go for a walk, visit a friend, enjoy a cup of tea in the sun.

Since changes in thinking commonly accompanies low mood it may also be useful to learn about unhelpful thinking and how we can change it to become more rational, balanced and helpful. This has a great impact on how we feel and behave accordingly. Helpful information can be found online, or visiting a therapist can also be useful.

Get some social support, talk to a friend, a family member or a professional about it. Reducing social isolation is a preventative measure, and helps prevent low mood. Some people may experience loneliness which further impacts this. Things like attending a Meetup, joining a community group or doing some volunteering may help with this.

Improving the moment! In the northern hemisphere people sometimes turn the focus towards working alongside the darkness rather than beating it. Making it cosy so that they can better manage the darker months of the year is a common theme. Lighting the fire, or some candles, wrapping up in a nice big blanket with a good book, nice music and a cup of tea is one example of this. In Norway they refer to this atmosphere as ‘koselig’, in Denmark they call it ‘hygge’ and in Sweden they call it ‘mysigt’. Google these terms and you may get some ideas of how you may be able to work with the darkness to improve your mood.

Natural Support:

Alongside the psycho-social aspects that are important to address, there are a variety of natural supplements and dietary modifications that can offer additional benefits for people suffering from SAD. Your naturopath will be able to help support you to find the right approach for your needs.

In people with SAD, serotonin, our “happy” hormone may be depleted. Low levels of serotonin are linked with poor mood and depression. 5HTP is a safe and effective supplement that helps to stabilize levels of serotonin in the brain, and can have a hugely positive impact on mood and anxiety.

The herb St John’s Wort is also an excellent mood enhancer and has been proven in clinical studies to be effective in the treatment of SAD. It works through modulating a number of our brain neurotransmitters which are associated with mood and motivation, including serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.

Although both 5HTP and St John’s Wort are very safe, there is the possibility of interaction with other medications, particularly anti-depressants, so please see your naturopath or holistic doctor before taking either of these therapies.

Nutritional support can also prove highly beneficial. As mentioned above, Vitamin D deficiency is considered a key causative factor in SAD. Your best source of vitamin D is of course sunlight, so if you can manage to book in a sunny winter vacation then you will certainly reap the rewards! However, if this isn’t a possibility, then you may well benefit from a daily supplement through the winter months. Dosage needs to be adjusted according to needs. Therefore having your levels checked is recommended.  Foods only contain low levels of vitamin D and cannot generally be relied on to boost your levels. Cold water fish such as cod, salmon and sardines are your best sources, while cow’s milk, eggs and shiitake mushrooms also contain limited amounts.

Other nutrients that can help those experiencing SAD include omega 3 oils, zinc, magnesium and B vitamins. Deficiencies in any of these can contribute to the low mood and lethargy associated with the winter blues.

Carbohydrate and sugar cravings are often a symptom of SAD. However, although tucking into a chocolate muffin may have an initial positive impact on your mood, the reward is short-lived. Succumbing to sweet cravings too often can disrupt blood-sugar levels and actually worsen low-moods. Choosing foods containing healthy sources of proteins and fats such as nuts and seeds, legumes, eggs, tofu, fish and avocados will help you to balance your blood sugar levels and beat the carbohydrate cravings. Enjoy complex carbohydrates including whole grains, kumara, pumpkin and quinoa. These foods are nourishing and grounding and do not cause extreme blood-sugar fluctuations. There are plenty of deliciously healthy sweet treats out there to enjoy on occasion too – why not get creative in the kitchen, or visit your local health store to stock up on these should the cravings over-come you!

If you are experiencing SAD and feel that therapy and/or alternative treatments may be beneficial, then please be sure to contact us at The Holistic Medical Centre so that we can link you up with our wonderful psychologists, naturopaths and holistic GPs.

Tips for Alleviating Period Pain

Tips for Alleviating Period Pain

Are you or someone you know experiencing regular period pain?

Are you or someone you know experiencing regular period pain? Sadly dysmenorrhea, as it is medically known, is so common today that hugging a hot water bottle and reaching for the painkillers for a few days of each month is simply accepted as part and parcel of being a woman.

However, period pain, believe it or not, is not actually normal. Most cases of mild to moderate period pain can be remedied within one to two cycles, while more severe cases may need more support and investigation before they improve.

Period pain can be classified into two different types.  Primary dysmenorrhea, or “normal” period pain, usually occurs on the first or second day of menstruation in the form of mild cramping that improves with pain killers, or a hot water bottle and will not generally interrupt daily activities. It often lessens with age and may be caused by hormonal imbalances, nutrient deficiencies, stress, inflammation, or a combination of these.

Secondary dysmenorrhea is such a severe period pain that it interferes with daily activity. It can last many days and may be so bad as to cause vomiting. This pain won’t be ameliorated by your standard ibuprofen, and usually worsens with age. Severe period pain is usually a sign of an underlying condition such as endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, or fibroids and needs further investigation by your doctor.

Assessments to investigate the underlying cause of period pain may include:

  • A full clinical case assessment discussing signs and symptoms, age of onset, duration and level of pain
  • Physical investigation, possibly including internal exam
  • Ultra sound scan to check for fibroids
  • Full blood tests to check for nutrient deficiencies, thyroid function, inflammation
  • In more complex or chronic cases, functional tests such as Dried Urine Test for Comprehensive Hormones (DUTCH) or salivary hormone testing can tell us a lot more about your individual hormone balance

Tips for alleviating period pain:

The good news is that for both forms of period pain, there are a lot natural approaches to help improve, and in many cases completely alleviate the pain and discomfort. It can be useful to make an appointment with a naturopath who can assess which approach would work best for you as well as guide you with the correct dose and forms of supplements. They can also provide valuable support through the process. It can take 2-3 cycles or more before a significant improvement in symptoms occurs so having someone experienced to work with can make all the difference in achieving results.

A low inflammatory diet can be one of the most powerful things that you can do to help period pain. Dairy is probably the number one inflammatory food group that contributes to period pain. Many women find that removing this alone can have a hugely positive impact. Gluten, alcohol, caffeine, sugars and trans-fats are also very inflammatory. It can be challenging to remove all these from your diet, but at least consider reducing them and see how it makes you feel. Foods such as vegetables, fish and flaxseed oils, as well as herbs and spices such as turmeric, ginger, garlic and cinnamon, are very anti-inflammatory and great to include. It usually takes one to two months of eating an anti-inflammatory diet before an effect is noticed, so do persevere – it will be worth it!

Magnesium is a smooth muscle relaxant as well as helping to calm the nervous system, reduce inflammation and lessen our experience of pain and discomfort. Taking a high dose – 300mg or more- of a good quality magnesium supplement daily will help to reduce the inflammatory chemicals that cause uterine cramping. Increasing the dose over the most painful period can also help to reduce acute pain and cramping.

Zinc is another important mineral when it comes to period pain. It helps to regulate hormone production as well as reduce inflammation. Zinc deficiencies amongst Kiwis are common because New Zealand soils are low in in this vital mineral, which means most of our foods are too. It is a good idea to have your zinc levels tested to check for zinc depletion and supplement if there is a deficiency.

Fish oils are powerfully anti-inflammatory, and anyone who is not eating at least two servings of oily fish per week would benefit from a good quality supplement. Studies have shown fish oil supplementation to be as effective as taking ibuprofen for relieving mild to moderate period pain, and without the side effects. It is important to take a high standard fish oil supplement, as some off-the-shelf products have been found to be rancid, or contain traces of toxic metals. Speak with your naturopath or doctor to ensure you are taking the best quality fish oil and therapeutic dose for you.

Turmeric is one of the most powerfully anti-inflammatory spices.  For addressing period pain it is best taken daily using therapeutic doses in supplemental form as the spice itself is not well absorbed.

Exercise increases circulation, boost mood and reduces inflammation and is a great way to help support the reduction of period pain and cramping. Try to include regular movement in your day – be it dancing, yoga, team sports, running or walking, whatever floats your boat. Excessive exercise can have the opposite effect so no need to sign up for a marathon just yet!

More specific approaches using supplements and herbal medicines such as chaste tree, bupleurum, cramp bark, and DIM (di-indolymethane – an extract from broccoli) can also have a powerful effect on alleviating period pain through regulating hormone balance and inflammation. These should always be prescribed by a qualified naturopath or health practitioner based on an assessment of your specific requirements.

Setting Goals

Setting Goals

Achieving your dream is certainly not an easy task; however it is worth the effort!

Eleven tips to achieve your goals:

  1. To achieve your goals, start by getting yourself organised and create a template using a ‘SMART’ way to set your It is an easy yet powerful way of achieving your goals.  To set SMART goals:

Specific – (i.e. what do I want to accomplish?) – Be clear and specific about what you wanted to achieve.

Measurable – (i.e. how will I know when it is accomplished?) – Take baby steps! Acknowledge your progress, which also will help you to stay on track and motivated to reach your ultimate goal.

Attainable – (i.e. how can the goal be accomplished? Are your goals realistic?). Take baby steps to figure out ways that you could make it work. As soon you are clear that your goals are achievable your attitude and skills are likely to focus towards it.

Relevant – (i.e. is it worth persevering?) – with integrity ask yourself how relevant this journey is for you. And, if I get stuck, do a pros and cons exercise to double check if you are on the right track.

Time – (i.e. what can you do today?) – Set your a time. It is not unusual for people to get overwhelmed if you think about the end result, especially if your goal queries time. Thus, to help you with that, set your goals focusing on day-to-day basis and tried not to look too far.

  1. When the challenges do arise, try not fight them, instead, see if you’re able to work with them. There is probably a lesson to be learned or it may be time to stop and reflect on if what you are doing is working for you. There is nothing wrong that if half way thought your journey you realise that you have changed you mind. At the end of the day, we are allowed to change our opinions, to make mistakes and to continue to learn about who we are and what we want.
  2. Allow yourself to be flexible so you can enable yourself to respond to new situations and challenges. Sometimes things can get on our way; life is like a surprise box…we never know what the future will bring.
  3. Be kind to yourself. While on the journey of achieving your dream it is likely you will have to go through some “hard times”… remember… it is just part of the journey and mistakes are there so we can learn from them. But also, one of the biggest obstacles that we are likely to encounter is ourselves. We have a tendency to be our own taskmasters, to be tough on ourselves; to demand high levels of perfectionism and to set goals that in reality may be likely fail. Therefore, be kind to yourself, it makes you more effective.
  4. Learn how to deal with stress, learn what triggers your stress and start to observe how your body reacts to it. Then it may be easier to work around this, to find solutions and eventually move further towards your goals.
  5. Develop a good routine for self-care i.e. go for walks, have baths, yoga, meditation, socialising etc. Having a good self-care will help to keep your body and mind balanced.
  6. Accept that sometimes things are out of our control and all you can do is your best. And that our best will differ dependent on our circumstances.
  7. Get in tune with yourself. Learn to distinguish what feels right and what feel wrong. If it feels wrong it is time for self-reflection, as something is not right.
  8. Plan! Plan! Plan! We are always trying to fit more and more into our days! Prioritise what is important to you. Get organised. Try writing a goal achievement diary, and list what has contributed to your goal and how proud you are of your self for doing it. Find the positive side of things specially when you are facing a difficult situation.
  9. Reconnect with your values, reflect on what is important to you and refocus on you goals. Goals are easier to work towards if they align with what is truly important to us.
  10. Treat yourself for working so hard. It is important that you reinforce your behaviour if you’ve done something that you feel proud of. A good trick is to have a hat full of papers folded with treats (i.e. a massage, have a night out, have a bath, go to the movies, etc) and if you work the hours planed for the week allow yourself to pick a treat from the hat!

How to improve your heart health!

How to improve your heart health!

Carrying excess fat, high blood pressure and cholesterol imbalances all have an impact on the health of your heart. Nutritional deficiencies such as B12, folate, iron, vitamin D and zinc are also important to keep an eye on, in order to maintain the health of your heart. Imbalanced levels of these can vastly increase your risk of cardiovascular problems and yet are usually simple to address.

The good news is that your cardiovascular health can be greatly improved – and preserved – through following a healthy diet and lifestyle. If caught early it is much easier to manage cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure, cholesterol imbalances and inflammation naturally, and thus avoid the need for medication.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”, as Hippocrates’ ancient saying goes. Following a Mediterranean-style diet has been consistently proven to be one of the most effective steps you can take to prevent heart disease. There is no calorie counting, but rather simple guidelines around the best foods to eat, including an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, regular servings of oily fish, cold pressed oils such as olive and avocado, fresh nuts and seeds, and wholegrains rather than refined carbohydrates.

Follow a heart- healthy Mediterranean-style diet by including:

· An abundance of fruits and vegetables rich in heart healthy antioxidants, fibre, vitamins and minerals.
· Lean and plant-based proteins such as fish, poultry, beans, nuts and seeds.
· High-quality oils and fats such as cold pressed olive oil and avocado.
· Whole grains including brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, and oats.
· Fibre, in the form of fruits and vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and seeds.
· Heart protective herbs and spices such as turmeric, garlic, ginger and cinnamon.

To optimise your cardiovascular health and get expert advice, make an appointment with one of the Holistic Medical Centre Naturopaths or Holistic GP’s . Contact us on 09 370 0650

Tips to improve your skin’s health

Tips to improve your skin’s health

Good nutrition, a healthy lifestyle and making sure you are getting essential nutrients, are all ways to you can improve the health of your skin. Premature ageing, rosacea, eczema, acne, fungal infections and rashes are all signals that there may be internal deficiencies and imbalances that need correcting. Often people with chronic conditions such as eczema, rosacea and acne become reliant on topical corticosteroids or other prescribed creams and medications. While these can be useful in the short term, it can be beneficial to understand and address the underlying factors contributing to these skin conditions.

Dietary and lifestyle modification is an excellent start to improving your internal health and ultimately your skin health – this includes enjoying plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet alongside whole grains and good quality proteins such as fish, chicken, tofu, eggs and small portions of lean red meat.

The following nutrients are especially important for promoting skin health and healing:

·       Zinc is important for skin repair and immune health. Zinc can also help to balance blood sugar and hormone levels that can negatively impact skin health. There are many great food sources of zinc such as oysters, shellfish, pumpkin seeds, kidney beans, yoghurt and non-GMO tofu. Despite this, zinc deficiencies amongst Kiwis are common because New Zealand soils are low in this vital mineral so supplementation may be necessary.  Eczema and acne are two skin conditions that can respond well to zinc supplementation. 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. 

·       Omega 3 Fish oils can have strong anti-inflammatory effects in the body and can assist with some skin conditions. Foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids include oily fish such as sardines, salmon and anchovies, as well as chia, flaxseeds and walnuts. 

·       Vitamin C is a key nutrient involved in collagen synthesis. Collagen gives your skin its strength and structure, and assists in maintaining the elasticity of your skin. Vitamin C is one of many antioxidants found in fresh fruits and vegetables. 

·       Probiotic bacteria are important for the health of your bowels and your immune system. Having a healthy balance of probiotic bacteria in your gut may have a positive impact on inflammatory skin conditions including acne and eczema. Fermented foods such as yoghurt, miso and sauerkraut contain a good supply of probiotic bacteria, but it can be hard to include enough in your diet. If this is the case for you, then a good quality probiotic supplement may be a good addition to your diet.

 To optimise your health and get expert advice on how you can improve your skin and get the essential nutrients you need, make an appointment with one of the Holistic Medical Centre Naturopaths or Holistic GPs . Contact us on 09 370 0650  

Five Foods to Improve Your Mood

Five Foods to Improve Your Mood

Hormonal changes, fluctuations in blood sugar, and thyroid issues all play a part in our mood levels. Any deficiencies in our vital nutrients can have a knock-on effect on the way that we feel. Good nutrition plays a key role in maintaining our mood also.

Here’s 5 food groups that can start you on the way:

· Mushrooms A handful of mushrooms will provide 36% of your recommended daily intake of selenium, a vital component in supporting your immune system, and are the richest source of selenium in the produce department.

· Leafy greens such as spinach, kale and silverbeet are excellent sources of mood boosting nutrients folate and magnesium. Include a good serving of these daily

· Seafood is a rich source of omega 3 oils for healthy mood as well as zinc and iodine for thyroid health. Choose oily fish such as sardines, anchovies or wild salmon for their superior omega 3 supply. Mussels and oysters provide high levels of zinc, and sea veggies such as New Zealand karengo are rich in iodine.

· Fermented foods supply beneficial probiotic bacteria to support bowel health and the production of the mood-boosting hormone serotonin.

· Cinnamon is a spice that is traditionally used to help support blood sugar regulation. Use this liberally in cooking, mixed into natural muesli, or add to soups and smoothies to help with maintain your blood sugar levels and rebalance your mood.

To optimise your health and get expert advice on how you can best support your mood and energy levels through nutrition, make an appointment with one of the Holistic Medical Centre Naturopaths or Holistic GP’s . Contact us on 09 370 0650

Four Food Groups to Kick-start Your Liver

Four Food Groups to Kick-start Your Liver

Struggling with poor sleep, irritability, weight gain (especially around the middle) and poor digestion. The best way to get all these things back on track is by doing a cleanse.

Here’s 4 food groups that can start you on the way:

· Go green. Veges such as kale, broccoli, cabbage, watercress and brussel sprouts.

· Spring into sulphur. Cruciferous vegetables, eggs, onions, raw garlic, leaks and spring onion are all excellent sources of sulphur compounds.

· Bitter is better. Excellent bitter foods include rocket, endives, mustard leaf, dandelion greens, kale, turmeric and grapefruit. These foods help to promote natural detoxification by the liver and reduce cravings for sweet foods.

· Antioxidants Fresh fruits and vegetables, and herbs and spices, provide an abundance of natural antioxidants. Some of the highest-rated antioxidant foods include goji berries, blueberries, raw dark chocolate, rosemary, thyme, turmeric.

Click here for more info and to find out about The Holistic Medical Centre’s Cleanse Package

To optimise your health this year make an appointment with one of the Holistic Medical Centre Naturopaths or Holistic GP’s . Contact us on 09 370 0650  

Banana Pancakes

2 Ingredient banana pancakes

Basic Batter

  • 1 large banana, mashed (should be around ⅓ to ½ cup when mashed)
  • 2 eggs

Optional add ins:

  • ⅛ tsp baking powder (makes them fluffier and more pancake like)
  • 2 tbsp nut butter, ground almonds or dessicated coconut (makes them a little denser)
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¼ cup blueberries/ raspberries/ chopped nuts


1. Peel and mash the banana, stir in the egg. Mix in any non-chunky add ins that you want (e.g. nut flours or butters, baking powder…). For smoother texture add
2. Heat a little coconut oil in a pan. Turn the heat down to medium-low.
3. Pour a circle of batter into the pan (about 1 or 2 tbsp of batter per pancake).
4. Cook until golden brown on the underside (around 1 minute) sprinkle on any chunky ingredients (e.g. fruit, nuts, if using), then use a metal spatula to flip and cook until golden brown on the other side (30 seconds to 1 minute).
5. Serve warm with coconut yogurt…yum!

Chocolate Coconut Truffles

Chocolate Coconut Truffles


• 2 ripe bananas

• ¾ cup desiccated coconut and ¼ cup for decoration

• ¾ cup almond meal

• ½ cup sunflower seeds

• 3 tablespoons chia seeds

• ½ tsp – 1 teaspoon cinnamon

• 1 to 2 teaspoons of stevia powder (this is optional depending on how sweet you like your truffles)

• 2 tablespoons cacao powder


• Add all the ingredients to your food processor and blend for 1 minute until mixture is dough-like and sticks together. Sprinkle left-over coconut onto a flat plate. Take dessertspoon-sized portions of the mixture, roll into a ball and then roll in the coconut. Put truffles into a container and leave in fridge. Truffles will last in the fridge for about a week and they do freeze also.

Vegie Snack Wraps

Vegie Snack Wraps


• Nori seaweed sheets

• Selection of your favourite vegetables, sliced: carrot, celery, cucumber, capsicum, zucchini, sprouts etc.

• Home-made hommus or guacamole

• Add preferred protein source: boiled egg, sliced chicken, sardines, tofu


• Lay down a nori sheet with the rough side facing up (you will notice the seaweed papers have a shiny side and a rough side) on a chopping board. Spread a tablespoon of your chosen base over the seaweed sheet (e.g. avocado or hummus).

• Add your selection of sliced vegetables on the side closest to you, then lay on a protein source if need be. Avoid adding too much in one roll. Wet the edges of seaweed paper at the far end and roll up tightly then press down once at the end. Let it sit for five minutes before cutting into portion size pieces.