Someone asked me to comment on theories around the rise of childhood allergies. The immune system is extremely complex consisting of an array of different types of white blood cells such as natural killer cells, neutrophils, macrophages, B lymphocytes and T lymphocytes. The T lymphocytes can be further classified into T helper 1 cells and T helper 2 cells and it is in this category that the immune system has the potential to become a double edged sword as both types of T helper cells should ideally be in balance. T helper 1 (Th1) lymphocytes need to be in adequate supply to fight off infection and an oversupply of T helper 2 lymphocytes (Th2) will contribute to the hyperactivity of the immune system in the form of allergies and some autoimmune diseases. So what balances these cells in the body? Another type of T lymphocytes called T regulatory cells (Treg) many of which reside along the gastrointestinal tract. The maturation of these cells are very much dependent on the microflora there. It stands to reason then that anything that disrupts the delicate microflora of the gut will contribute to this problem. Other types of cells called regulatory antigen presenting cells (APCs) likewise do not mature in a healthy fashion if there is an under supply of certain bacteria.

For a long time there was a theory called ‘the hygiene hypothesis’ based on the idea that due to improved sanitation in developed countries the Th1 cells are not stimulated as often in response to childhood infection and this stimulation in turn would ordinarily suppress Th2 cells responsible for allergies (imagine the see saw below).  However, more evidence is emerging that the Th1 and Th2 cells can act independently of each other. The more likely scenario is that children are no longer exposed to micro-organisms in dirt and helminths (aka worms!) that actually have a role to play in the maturation of the T regulatory cells in the digestive system.

How do I prevent allergies in my children?

Like many diseases, allergy is in-arguably related to the health of the gastrointestinal tract.  There is an element of genetic susceptibility that cannot be controlled for but the key in ensuring that babies get the best chance of avoiding allergies is to optimise the growth of healthy microflora in the digestive system. Babies’ digestive systems are sterile on arrival and so early exposure to healthy flora is important starting with that  obtained during their transition through the birth canal. There is evidence that a particular strain of probiotic called Lactobacillus rhamnosus (LGG) when  taken by mum in the last trimester will reduce the likelihood of allergies. Other strategies for building up  healthy microflora include breastfeeding, skin on skin contact, use of prebiotics (these feed the good bacteria) in formulas, and introducing your baby to a probiotic if required (e.g antibiotic use by breastfeeding mum). Based on the incidence of allergies in less sanitized nations there is also good evidence that there is nothing wrong with older children having a good old play in the dirt! Always reserve antibiotics for when they are truly necessary and follow them up with a good quality probiotic particularly one that contains Lactobacillus rhamnosus (LGG).

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Menopause, that lovely time of life when your menstrual cycle goes haywire, you snap at everyone from the dog to the postman and you seem to be generating so much heat that you could power a small village.  As you near menopause you’ll notice your cycle becomes irregular (longer or shorter) and more often than not periods become lighter but for some women they become heavier. According to the Jean Hailes Foundation 20% of women suffer severe symptoms and 60% suffer mild symptoms during this time. The most common of these being hot flushes and night sweats, aches and pains, crawling or itching sensations, headaches, vaginal dryness, reduced libido, urinary frequency, tiredness, irritability, depression, insomnia, lack of self esteem and forgetfulness.

As usual, natural remedies have the power to be holistic in their approach. Treatment aims to modulate the declining levels of estrogen in the body by adopting herbs such as Black Cohosh, which has the added benefit of being anti-inflammatory to the joints, and Shatavari which can also raise libido. The symptoms of menopause can also be addressed, for example Sage is very effective at treating hot flushes, Valerian for insomnia and St John’s Wort for depression.

Women tend to start gaining abdominal weight around the time of menopause so it’s the perfect time to give your diet an overhaul and getting into a regular exercise routine, both of which will help you manage the symptoms of menopause as well.

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Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is an increasingly prevalent disorder I see regularly in practice. It is termed a functional bowel disorder which basically means the function of the bowel is altered without evidence of anything more sinister such as blood in the stool. Symptoms include cramping, flatulence, abdominal distension and a change in bowel habit whether it be constipation, diarrhoea or an alternating of the two. These symptoms can contribute significantly to the sufferers quality of life, not only through pain and discomfort but also through increased anxiety about the symptoms experienced during work and social situations and even the location of toilets.

Natural treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome focuses on the contributing factors of IBS as well as the symptoms themselves. There is evidence that IBS can be associated with increased stress, disruption of the bowel flora, gastrointestinal infection and permeability and food intolerances. These are very individual causes and need to be treated on a case by case basis.  The probiotic bacteria Lactobacillus plantarum 299v is a specific probiotic with researched benefits for people suffering from IBS.

As for the symptoms of IBS there are an array of herbs that will help for treating constipation such as Slippery elm, Psyllium, Aloe vera and Rhubarb and diarrheoa such as Agrimony, Cransebill and Oak Bark. Other herbs which assist are those which reduce spasm in the gastrointestinal tract such as Cramp Bark, Chamomile and Peppermint, the latter two being wonderful examples of herbs which also ease flatulence.

As you can see IBS is extremely amenable to treatment via natural remedies and much can be done to improve the function and quality of life of those who suffer.

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February often marks the time when New Years Resolutions, made with all the best intentions, tend to fall by the wayside and old habits start to rear their ugly heads. Old habits really do die hard so its a good time to refer back to those resolutions and decide whether you really do want to have those positive outcomes of a healthier lifestyle like losing weight, looking better and having more energy.

So how do you stop yourself from reverting back to old habits? Its a good idea to identify all the barriers you have to positive change and then thinking about how you are going to overcome those barrier in a sustainable way. For example, you may feel like finances are a barrier to exercise but a solution to this problem may be to exercise in ways that don’t require money. It costs nothing to go for a walk. You might feel like you don’t have the energy to cook a healthy meal at the end of a busy day but using pre-cut meat and vegetables will make a pretty quick and easy stir fry. The healthier your diet becomes the more energy you will have for cooking and exercise. It’s really is a snow ball effect in that regard.

Emotional eating is a key contributor to the success or failure of a healthy eating plan. Next time you eat the wrong kinds of food, particularly if it is in a large amount, think about how you were feeling at the time. Many people eat to suppress feelings of anger, sadness, boredom and loneliness. If you can identify the feelings that trigger your emotional eating, you are one step closer to preventing it from happening again by thinking about alternative strategies to coping with those emotions.

What About A Detox?

Although a detox program may seem like a quick fix solution to an unhealthy lifestyle these programs play a much more important role in wellness and prevention. Toxins can be classed as both exogenous and endogenous, which simply means they can come from sources both outside and inside the body. By cleaning up your diet and taking supplements to assist the detoxification pathways of the body, wonders can be achieved in overall wellness. However, many people are unaware that endogenous toxins often originate from a state called ‘dysbiosis’ in the bowel. Put simply this means the balance between good bacteria and bad bacteria, yeasts and parasites are not optimum. These nasty micro-organisms cause digestive problems, leaky gut, malabsorption and generally release toxic bi-products which can be absorbed into the bloodstream.  Without addressing any level of dysbiosis in the digestive system, a change in diet and most commercial detox programs will only serve as a band-aid measure at best.

The Metagenics Integrated Detoxification Program I use with clients in practice addresses any nasty micro-organisms in the digestive tract before moving on to support the kidneys and the liver. Not sure if you have ‘dysbiosis’? I use an in-house test called the “Urinary Indican Test” to determine whether dysbiosis exists and I offer this to my clients free of charge.

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Why not go into 2013 feeling fantastic. January is the perfect time to do a detox after the excesses of the Christmas & New Year Period. I primarily use the Metagenics Integrated Detox Program at Vital Spirit because it addresses significant sources of internal toxin exposure rather than just targeting the detox organs themselves. Other programs that only focus on the kidneys and liver are in effect a band-aid solution. The program is simple and easy to follow and is backed up by professional advice and support

Staying Healthy In A Toxic World

In our busy modern world, toxins are very common. Environmental toxins include things like heavy metals, pesticides, chemicals, food additives, drugs and pollutants, which are present in the air, water and food that we consume. Toxins do not only come from our external environment; toxins can also be generated internally by ‘bad’ bacteria, yeasts and parasites in your digestive system. These internally generated toxins are then absorbed into your bloodstream, affecting your health and vitality.

A natural detoxification program can be one of the most effective strategies for rapidly improving the state of your health as it may help clear toxins out of your body and leave you feeling healthy and energetic.

Comprehensive Detoxification

The Metagenics Program I use is a safe, gentle detox program that may help clear your body of accumulated toxins. The natural supplements used in this program support your body and help it detoxify, allowing your body’s detoxification and repair systems to function efficiently, without causing any undesirable side-effects.

The Metagenics Integrated Detoxification Program works by:

  • Removing toxin exposure through dietary and lifestyle changes;
  • Removing bad bacteria and waste from your digestive system;
  • Renewing your digestive lining and the healthy bacteria to improve your digestive function; and
  • Releasing your body’s toxins so they can be eliminated.

The Integrated Detoxification Program is the most effective way of giving your body a thorough ‘spring clean’ and get you feeling fantastic again!

Express Detoxification

Not everyone will need the Metagenics Integrated Detoxification Program. If you are generally well, but have overindulged recently (e.g. post-Christmas hint hint) or have completed a full detox and are looking for something to do as an annual or bi-annual ‘spring clean’, you may benefit from the Metagenics Express Detox Program. This program lasts two weeks and should be enough to get you back on track and feeling great!

Safety Precautions
  • Pregnancy: Detoxification should not be attempted during pregnancy; however, it is ideal as a preconception program. If you fall pregnant while doing a detox you should stop the program and contact your Practitioner.
  • Medication: Detoxification has the potential to change the way some medicines work. If you are taking prescription medications then discuss this with your Practitioner.
  • Side-effects: Occasionally people may experience adverse symptoms during detoxification such as nausea, changes in bowel function or headaches. Generally these are short-term and will resolve without any intervention; however, you should discuss them with your Practitioner if they are severe or last for more than a few days.

Ask me today about the Metagenics Detoxification program; I am trained to support and guide you and will help you on your journey to true health and vitality.

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I’ve been wanting to see this documentary for a while. It’s about a 42 year old Australian guy, Joe Cross, who decides to do something radical for his health. Tired of the discomfort of Chronic Urticaria (hives) and the medication to treat it. Joe embarks on a 30 day juice fast where he drinks only fresh fruit and vegetable juice. He spends the first half of his epic feat around New York where he has spent much of his time and where he is surrounded by many of the foods which have also contributed to his obesity. The second half he spends travelling around the country interviewing people as he goes about thier attitudes to health, diet and the association between the two. The most inspirational part of this tale is not what Joe himself achieves however (sure he lost a tonne of weight and his urticaria went away) but the fact that he meets a fellow sufferer of urticaria in a truck stop in Iowa who is so overweight the most exercise he gets is from walking from his truck to the roadside diner. His new friend Phil also finds inspiration and goes on to lose a ridiculous amount of weight from a 60 day juice fast, change jobs and reunite with his family.

I found the lovely part of this story was the snowball effect. Yes Joe lost a lot of weight but he had the money and resouces to do it easily. The fact that he inspires Phil to take up similar goals and behaviour change strategies and puts his hand up to be a support person to this sad, lonely man is what really impresses me.  Phil in turn gains confidence and starts to inspire the patrons of the local health food store by giving juicing lessons and his own brother who has a heart attack during the course of filming.

As a nutritionist there are reservations I have, particularly for long juice fasts which were not highlighted in the film. Namely the lack of good quality protein (I do recall the word beans being mentioned somewhere at the start) which is required for lean muscle preservation and the fact that it is more important to use organic fruit and veg for juicing because of the concentration of the finished product. Finally, juicers that extract the best quality juice without damaging nutrients and enzymes in the process are cold press juicers and these were certainly not promoted in the film. However all in all this is an inspirational tale about the potential of micronutrient diets to reverse health problems and change people’s lives.

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You would have to be living in a hole to not realise that November has been re-named Movember in order to raise funds for Men’s Health Issues, particularly prostate cancer and depression. So I thought it was the perfect opportunity to write about some of the problems particular to men that can be quite receptive to herbal and nutritional treatment.

Although prostate cancer treatment per se should be left to conventional medicine there is much that can be done to prevent the progression to cancer in the first place. A wellness diet with particular emphasis on omega-3 fatty acids, soy foods and some anti-oxidants such as lycopene found in tomatoes, vitamin E and selenium will contribute to the prevention of prostate cancer.

The prostate gland itself can cause much grief in older men if it becomes inflamed (prostatitis) and/or enlarged (benign prostatic hypertrophy) because it sits so close to the bladder and drains into the urethra. Symptoms include urinary frequency, hesitancy, urgency and nocturia (night time urination). Herbs such as Saw Palmetto, Nettle and Willow Herb and the mineral zinc can prevent and treat the enlargement of the gland and other herbs can assist with the associated pain and discomfort for example Horsetail and Corn Silk to soothe the urethra, Cramp Bark to reduce spasm and Buchu and Bearberry if  infection is present.

There are a range of other herbs to assist men through various stages of life such as Damiana and Tribulus for low libido and impotence with added Gingko Biloba for erectile dysfunction. Damiana is also useful for depression in males along with Oat Seed which also has a strong historical useful for male reproductive problems. These herbs combined with other antidepressant herbs such as St John’s wort, Lemon Balm and Siberian Ginseng work wonders for depression. For male infertility the antioxidant supplements are extremely important because sperm is so susceptible to harm caused by free radicals. The supplements found to be most effective are zinc, selenium and CoenzymeQ10 (CoQ10). The requirement for CoQ10 increases with the age of the man.

Lifestyle factors, of course, also contribute to health in men with alcohol and drug use contributing to mental health problems and erectile dysfunction, with weight, lack of B vitamins, healthy fats and antioxidants contributing to depression, anxiety and the health of sperm. Positive changes to lifestyle has huge potential to contribute to every aspect of a man’s health.

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We are becoming increasingly aware of the growing issue of mental illness within the Australian population. The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing indicated that an estimated 3.2 million Australians (20% of the population aged between 16 and 85) had a mental disorder in the twelve months prior to the survey.

Unfortunately psychiatric drugs, despite having their place particularly for severe conditions, represent a class of drugs with many side effects and the often time reliance on such drugs for milder conditions does little to address the root causes of some mental health disorders.

So what can you do to prevent and even contribute to the early treatment of these disorders?
1. Feed your brain: Ever hear the saying that fish is brain food? The brain is 60% fat so it makes sense that the majority of fat in our diets should consist of healthy fats. The omega 3 fats found in deep sea fatty fish and flaxseed oils are the best sources of a particular type of omega 3 fatty acid called DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid), which can enter the brain.
2. Nourish the body: A rich and varied diet will ensure the intake of brain friendly nutrients, such as the B vitamins which help make brain chemicals such as serotonin and antioxidants which mop up nasty free radicals.
3. See your friendly psychologist: talking through your issues with a qualified psychologist will help get you back on track quicker.
4. Get on to mental health issues with natural treatment early. St John’s Wort is one of the most studied herbs with demonstrated effectiveness for mild to moderate depression. Other herbs can treat anxiety and insomnia such as Passionflower, Valerian and Kava and help your resistance to stress for example the Ginsengs, Withania and Rhodiola.
5. Last but not least, exercise – check out the benefits of exercise for mental health below.

Benefits of Exercise and Mental Health
by Michelle Davis from Targeted Fitness

While the majority of fitness research focuses on the physical benefits of exercise, a growing body of evidence demonstrates that physical activity also promotes improved mental health.

Researchers at Duke University demonstrated several years ago that exercise has antidepressant properties. During one research study, conducted by the University, of people suffering from depression 60% of the participants who exercised, for 30 minutes three times a week, overcame their depression without using antidepressant medication.

How does exercise help?
One theory is that exercise triggers the production of endorphins, which are naturally occurring opiates. Endorphins act in a similar way to morphine and provide natural pain relief.
Exercise also increases levels of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine in the body.  These three chemicals have been associated with elevated mood, and are boosted through exercise in a similar way to taking antidepressant medications, such as Prozac.

The bottom line is that most of us feel good after exercise. This is not only due to an increase in natural chemicals, but also the sense of achievement and social connections that exercise can create.

The following tips should get you off to a good start:

Keep it simple: There is little difference in the levels of mental health between moderately and highly active people. A highly detailed and demanding exercise program can be daunting and become overwhelming, keep it simple and go at your pace that way you’ll be more likely to continue
Get moving: Start off with walking, slow jogging, cycling or some light weight workouts. Just choose something you enjoy. There is no need to do more than 20 or 30 minutes of exercise, 3 – 4 times per week. Remember not to put pressure on yourself if you can only exercise once a week then that’s far better than nothing at all.
Don’t go it alone: It might be easier to start with if you make an appointment with a fitness professional at your local gym to discuss your goals and design an exercise program. The gym staff, in particular your personal trainer will provide you with support, education and motivation needed to make a difference.

Once you get your head and heart right it will all come together, you will see the world through clearer eyes and feel much better about yourself, you will be able to think clearly, make decisions easier, sleep better and in some cases reduce your medications or even stop taking them all together. Persistence is the key, as is listening to your body, you will have good days and bad, but eventually the good will far outweigh the bad.

Michelle is the owner of, and Personal Trainer at Targeted Fitness

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Ever looked at the long list of ingredients on a product and wondered what all those numbers were about? Based on the book by the same name by Bill Statham this ingenious app allows you to look up food and cosmetic additives either by their name or additive number and work out whether it really should be something you ingest or put on your body. It describes the uses of each chemical, potential effects on the body (eg allergen, toxin, carcinogen), symptoms it may cause and where else you might find it. It’s a handy little app to have whether you have chemical sensitivities, allergies, sensitive skin or simply want to be more mindful of the chemicals you expose yourself and your family to.

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Spring can be a wonderful time with the weather starting to warm, the smell of jasmine in the air and lighter, longer days. But if you are one of those unfortunate people that suffer from seasonal allergies; hayfever, sinusitis, even hives, September marks the start of a season of hell. Itching, watery eyes, sneezing and that congested headachey feeling that makes it difficult to think. Rather than relying on anti-histamines all season, which merely mask the problem by blocking histamine at it’s receptor sites, why not try natural treatments that employ a more holistic approach. Herbs for seasonal allergies can be grouped into the following categories.

1. Anti-histamine herbs: these herbs not only block histamine’s action but prevent the release of histamine from the mast cells. They include Albizia, Baical Skullcap, Nettle and Licorice

2. Tonics to the upper respiratory tract: these tighten the mucous membranes of the nasal and sinus cavities and reduce the amount of mucous discharge. Examples include Ground Ivy, Ribwort and Goldenseal.

3. Antimicrobials: great if you are prone to sinus infections and include Goldenseal, Garlic and Horseradish.

4. Immune modulating herbs: these are also appropriate if you are prone to sinus infections and include Echinacea and Astragalus.

Nutrients which are particularly useful for allergies are the antioxidants; vitamins A, D, E and zinc as well as a potent antioxidant called quercetin which stabilises mast cells and dampens down inflammation. These can be supplemented if a diet rich is fresh fruit and vegetables and unprocessed breads and cereals is lacking. Onions, which are a good source of quercetin, and garlic are good therapeutic foods.


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