Relief from Pain

Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

Many people regularly use anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen for the relief of headaches, joint and muscle pain, inflammation, injuries, and other types of chronic pain. However, a recent study has linked the drug to an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes and damage to the small intestine. Previous studies have already linked ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatory drugs to an increased risk of stomach ulcers and reduced fertility. However, the latest research suggests that it is more important than ever to find an alternative method of pain relief.

 

Herbal Medicine & Nutrition

Herbal medicine is a safe and effective form of treatment for pain relief. Most of the pharmaceutical drugs used today are based on plant constituents, which have been extracted or synthesised in a laboratory. Medical Herbalists are trained in the same diagnostic techniques as orthodox doctors but also incorporate a more traditional approach to healthcare.  This means identifying the cause of the problem rather than just treating the symptoms. Medical herbalists prescribe a blend of herbs, which are uniquely tailored to the individual, using high quality extracts at effective dosages.  You will also receive individually tailored dietary and other advice, as well as recommendations about which nutritional supplements could be helpful to you.

 

Acupuncture

Acupuncture involves the insertion of extremely fine, pre-sterilized, disposable needles to acupuncture points on the body surface. In the hands of a fully qualified professional practitioner, the use of acupuncture is entirely safe and free of any harmful side-effects. It can be very safely combined with other therapies and with orthodox medical treatment. Acupuncture is a highly effective for relieving many types of pain (including neck, back, hip and knee pain, arthritis, injuries and fibromyalgia).

 

McTimony Chiropractic

Like osteopathy and other forms of chiropractic, McTimony Chiropractic helps to relieve pain due to injuries, strenuous exercise, overuse of certain joints or muscles, poor posture, or degenerative diseases such as arthritis.  However, there is no violent manipulation involved and the treatment is very safe and suitable for people of all ages, including the elderly and young children. Unlike anti-inflammatory and pain-killing drugs, which may simply mask pain, chiropractic can help to correct misalignment of the joints, which is often the underlying cause of the pain.

 

Remedial Massage and Sports Massage Therapy

Massage Therapy can aid relaxation, reduce stress and tension, and relieve muscle pain, which may be due to stress and tension. Sports massage therapy uses deep tissue massage techniques to improve the condition of the muscles and other soft tissues, in order to enhance athletic performance and to prevent and treat injuries. Sports massage therapy is not just for serious or professional athletes. Anyone who practices sports or other physical activities, from the occasional athlete to those engaging in physical work can benefit from sports massage

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Ditch the Diet

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

After the excesses of Christmas and a long winter of stodgy foods and inactivity, many people are putting their new year’s resolutions into action and thinking about a diet overhaul. For some people, losing weight is a long-term goal, while others may be simply trying to lose a few extra pounds gained over the Christmas season. Either way, avoiding fad diets and incorporating some healthy lifestyle changes is a much more sustainable way to reach your ideal weight, and stay there.
 
Always eat a good breakfast…
Studies have shown that people who eat a good breakfast are less likely to be overweight.  Good choices are porridge, or wholegrain wheat and sugar free muesli or granola, mixed with a variety of seeds, topped with chopped fruit such as apples and blueberries, and served with soya, rice milk or regular milk.  It’s a delicious breakfast which is packed full of essential nutrients and keeps hunger at bay all morning.
 
Eating a healthy breakfast sets your metabolism at a higher level for the rest of the day so that you burn calories more efficiently and have more energy into the bargain.  It’s also a good idea to try to have your main meal at lunchtime if possible.  Don’t eat too late at night as you will have no opportunity to burn off all those calories before bed time! 
 
Remember your essential fats…
Obviously losing weight means avoiding fatty foods; however, it is important to consume enough of the essential fats needed for good metabolic functioning and healthy skin, nails and hair.  Eating oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, tuna and trout at least three times a week instead of red meat will help you to lose weight and ensure adequate levels of these healthy fats.  Studies have shown that people whose diet includes fish oils loose weight more easily. Many foods which are labeled ‘low fat’ are often packed full of sugar instead, so make sure you always read the label: things are not always as they seem!
 
Eat regular meals and healthy snacks…
The key to a healthy diet is to try to maintain your blood sugar at a steady level throughout the day.  Sugary foods such as chocolates, cakes and biscuits, (and some other carbohydrate-rich foods such as white bread) release their energy very rapidly, causing a sharp rise in blood sugar levels.  If this energy is not used up immediately by intense physical activity it is quickly removed from the bloodstream and converted to fat.  The blood sugar levels then plummet just as quickly, resulting in tiredness, headaches and further sugar cravings.  In the long term, this swinging of blood sugar levels can lead to excessive weight gain and diabetes.
 
Stable blood sugar levels can be maintained by eating small regular meals, and healthy snacks (such as fresh and dried fruits, nuts and seeds, and probiotic yoghurts). Skipping meals deprives the body of essential nutrients and is never a good idea.
 
Beware of so-called ‘sugar-free’ or ‘diet’ drinks, which contain chemical sweeteners such as aspartame.  These place a strain on the liver and can actually slow weight loss.  Green tea or diluted fresh fruit juice (such as apple juice which is very good for cleansing the liver) are much healthier alternative. It is also important to drink plenty of water to flush the system.
 
Don’t starve yourself…
While eating too much of the wrong foods causes the excess energy to be stored as fat, eating too little causes the body to behave as it would during a famine: lowering the metabolism to conserve energy, and leading to tiredness, poor concentration and mood swings.  The reduced rate of metabolism also leads to rapid weight gain when the diet returns to normal. If you eat plenty of good wholesome food you are much less likely to crave the wrong foods.
 
Avoid foods you don’t tolerate well…
Many people are intolerant to certain foods, which clog up the digestive system and cause sluggishness and weight gain. In this country, wheat intolerance is extremely common, and many people also have difficulty with dairy produce.  The only reliable way to assess food intolerance is to cut out the usual culprits, such as wheat and dairy produce, for at least 4 weeks, then reintroduce them one by one to see if a reaction occurs.  I have seen many people with a lifetime history of sluggish digestion, bloating and weight gain, which is resistant to any treatment, completely recover after excluding certain foods. Good alternatives to wheat products are spelt or gluten free bread and crackers, oatcakes and rice cakes. Alternatives to dairy milk include soya, rice milk and oat milk.
 
Make exercise enjoyable
Spending hours exercising when you don’t enjoy it is like punishment and this makes it very hard to keep it up.  If you hate the gym, choose activities you enjoy and can easily incorporate into your life, such as dancing or cycling. Yoga is wonderful for managing stress as well as increasing muscle tone, strength and flexibility.  If you think you are too busy to exercise, make a point of walking or cycling everywhere instead of driving.
 
And finally…
If you are struggling to lose weight despite changing your diet and exercising more frequently, you may have a health problem which is affecting your metabolism.  An underactive thyroid gland, hormone imbalance, intestinal dysbiosis and food intolerances can all lead to weight gain, bloating and excessive tiredness.  If you are finding it difficult to lose weight, consult a qualified practitioner of herbal medicine who will assess your diet and determine whether there are any underlying health problems which require treatment.

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Coping with the Change

Monday, October 17th, 2016

Some would say the menopause is a positive time: a transition from the stresses of building a career and raising children, to a time of wisdom and personal fulfillment.  But for many women the road is a rough one to say the least, fraught with a host of debilitating symptoms. The usual treatment for these symptoms is Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT).  Many women who decide to take HRT expect to take it for a few years and then discontinue treatment when the menopause is over.  However, HRT simply delays the inevitable, and most women find that when they stop taking it, their symptoms are just as bad as they were in the beginning, if not worse.

Many women are now looking for a natural alternative to HRT, due to concerns about the safety of long-term use, such as the increased risk of breast cancer and stroke. Herbal medicine is a safe and effective alternative, which has been used around the world for centuries to ease women through the menopause.

The first line of treatment is to reduce the impact of declining natural hormones. Herbs such as black cohosh contain substances which resemble oestrogen, and are very effective for reducing symptoms such as hot flushes and vaginal dryness.  Other natural substances that can mimic oestrogen in the body are the isoflavones, which are found soya products, seeds (such as in linseeds) and wholegrains.  These foods may be incorporated into the diet to reduce menopausal symptoms. However, in order for these substances to be used by the body, they must be broken down by beneficial bacteria in the digestive system. Therefore they are generally much more effective if taken with probiotics, or eaten in a fermented form, such as soya yoghurt, miso, tempeh or sourdough rye bread.

It is sometimes assumed that oestrogen-like substances in plants are associated with the same risks as HRT, but studies have shown that many of these herbs are perfectly safe, and even beneficial for women who have oestrogen-dependent conditions such as breast cancer.

The second task of herbal treatment is to address the symptoms.  The most common of these is hot flushing, which is often accompanied by sweating.  Sage dramatically reduces sweating, while hops is useful for insomnia due to night sweats. It is important to avoid foods such as caffeine, spices, and alcohol that can trigger hot flushes.

Other common menopausal symptoms include depression, anxiety, insomnia, exhaustion, poor concentration, memory loss, joint aches and low libido.  Following an in-depth consultation with a medical herbalist, several herbs are selected on the basis of each woman’s unique symptom picture, and blended in an individual prescription. Once the right combination of herbs is found for each individual, most women experience significant or even complete relief from symptoms within a few weeks.

Good nutrition is also an essential part of maintaining your wellbeing at 50 and beyond. Lower oestrogen levels after menopause are associated with increased skin ageing, thinning hair, and more seriously, an increased risk of osteoporosis and heart disease; and the best way to help prevent these problems is by ensuring you are getting the right nutrients.

The most beneficial nutrients for the over 50s are probably the essential fatty acids, found in oily fish (such as mackerel, tuna, salmon, herring and trout), together with various oils such as starflower, evening primrose and flax oils. These have a very beneficial effect on the condition of the skin, hair and nails, and have been shown to increase bone density and prevent heart disease.  It is also important to eat a healthy diet which contains plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, to take plenty of exercise.

Finally, many women are also trying to cope with children or teenagers, while juggling a career and taking care of the home during this difficult time. They may also be struggling to come to terms the loss of their youth, or with adult children leaving home. Stress and anxiety have a very negative impact on the balance of hormones, especially after menopause. This is because the adrenal glands (which take over the task of producing oestrogen when the ovaries shut down) are primarily responsible for secreting the hormones that help us to cope with stress. Other therapies that can help with these problems, such as Aromatherapy massage, counselling or art therapy, may also be very useful to ease women through the menopause, and make all the difference during this challenging time.

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Straighten Up and Move!

Monday, October 10th, 2016

This Sunday, 16th October is World Spine Day, which aims to raise awareness about prevention and treatment of back pain and spinal disability. The theme for World Spine Day 2016 is “Straighten Up and Move”, which focuses on the importance of physical activity and improving posture in maintaining good spinal health and preventing injury.

The spine is made up of 33 small bones called vertebrae, separated by the intervertebral discs, which are made up of a tough, flexible outer casing, filled with a jelly-like substance. The discs act like shock absorbers in between the vertebrae. The spine is supported by muscles of the back, which need to be strong in order to prevent damage to the spine due to injury, poor posture, or degenerative diseases such as arthritis. If the spine slips out of its correct alignment, these muscles go into spasm and become inflamed, leading to pain and stiffness.  The muscles, misaligned bones, or protruding discs may also pinch the nerves or blood vessels in the surrounding areas, leading to problems such as sciatica and headaches.

Research has demonstrated that poor posture and inactivity are major contributors to the development of back pain and other spinal disorders. According to the World Health Organization, one in four adults, and over 80% of adolescent population are not active enough. In order to strengthen the back muscles and avoid injury it is important to take regular exercise, which does not cause high impact to the spine. Walking, swimming and yoga are ideal, but take care to start gently, and build up gradually as your strength improves.

Try to maintain a good posture when standing and walking: Imagine there is an invisible cord attached to the top of your head which lifts you into a tall posture with your shoulders relaxed. Avoid hunching over the sink or desk by placing the washing up bowl on the draining board, and by doing paperwork on tilted surface. When lifting, bend your knees not your back, and keep your feet apart to maintain stability. Carry large objects against your body, and when carrying shopping bags try to balance the load equally in both hands. Bend your knees and not your back when doing jobs such as gardening.

Orthodox treatment for back pain usually consists of analgesic and anti-inflammatory drugs. These are very helpful for relief of pain and inflammation in the short term, but they do not address the underlying cause of the pain, such as misalignment of the spine, and they are often associated with side effects such as gastritis and stomach ulcers when used long term. Fortunately, there are a number of natural treatments that can be very effective.

Acupuncture has been shown in clinical trials to be highly effective for reliving back pain. Herbs such as devil’s claw and willow have a natural anti-inflammatory action, cramp bark helps to ease muscle spasm, and St. John’s wort is second to none for treating nerve damage and irritation.  Useful supplements include glucosamine and chondroitin, which help to maintain the integrity of the tissues, fish oils which help to reduce inflammation, and magnesium which reduces muscle spasm.

Where back pain is associated with injury or misalignment of the spine, McTimoney chiropractic is a particularly gentle but very effective form of treatment, which helps to align the spine and relieve the pressure on nerves and blood vessels. Prescription orthotics can also be very helpful for relieving back pain where this is due to misalignment of the feet or legs; and muscle tension and spasm can be effectively treated with massage.

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Healthy, Happy Heart

Monday, September 26th, 2016

This month is Irish Heart month, which culminates on World Heart Day on 29th September. Heart disease is Ireland’s number one killer, accounting for more than one third of all deaths in this country. 
Approximately 10,000 people die each year from cardiovascular disease, which includes heart attacks, strokes, and other circulatory diseases. Cardiovascular disease accounts for nearly a quarter of all premature deaths of people under the age of 65. It is also estimated that 30,000 people are living in the community with disabilities as a result of a stroke. Cardiovascular disease is often thought of as something which mostly affects men, however, heart disease and stroke is also the leading cause of death among Irish women, and the risks increase significantly after menopause.

The tendency to develop heart disease or stroke is genetic and tends to increase with age. However there are also many other risk factors which can be controlled in order to reduce the risks. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease, including both heart attacks and strokes, and smokers are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack than non-smokers. Therefore, giving up smoking is the single most effective means of reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease.

High cholesterol is another recognized risk factor for cardiovascular disease. If there is too much cholesterol in your blood, it can adhere to the inner lining of the blood vessels and cause them to become narrow and hardened. If a blood vessel supplying the heart muscle becomes blocked completely, this results in a heart attack, which causes damage to the heart muscle. If a blood vessel in the brain becomes blocked, it results in a stroke, which damages the brain. However, cholesterol is much more likely to adhere to blood vessels which are inflamed or damaged for other reasons, such as smoking or poor diet.

Being overweight and having high blood pressure both mean that the heart has to work harder to pump blood around the body. This extra pressure can cause wear and tear on both the heart and blood vessels. It is thought that fat which is stored around the abdomen (giving rise to an ‘apple-shaped’ figure) presents a greater risk for cardiovascular disease than fat which is stored around the buttocks and thighs (leading to a ‘pear-shaped’ figure). Being overweight can lead to both high blood pressure and diabetes, which causes damage to blood vessels due to elevated blood glucose, and is therefore another risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Stress also raises blood pressure and increases heart rate, putting greater pressure on the heart and blood vessels. In addition, stress often causes people to engage in more activities which can damage the heart and blood vessels, such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol or coffee, eating the wrong foods, and being inactive.

By far the best ways of  reducing the risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, diabetes and being overweight, are by getting enough exercise and eating a healthy, balanced diet. Exercising for at least 30 minutes every day helps to reduce blood pressure and stress levels, prevents obesity and diabetes, and strengthens the heart and circulation, thus preventing heart disease and strokes. It is best to try and choose activities you enjoy in order to to keep you motivated; such as brisk walking, sporting activities, swimming, dancing, gardening, or playing active games with children or grand children.

Eat a healthy, balanced diet including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, which contain antioxidants that help to prevent damage to the heart and blood vessels. Wholegrain cereals such as oats help to control cholesterol levels, while olive oil and oily fish help to prevent blood clots. Choose lean meat and skinless chicken instead of fatty meats. 2-3 squares of good quality dark chocolate and a daily glass of red wine have been shown to have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system.

Avoid animal fats as much as possible; and especially trans-fats, which are found in some margarines and many processed foods. It is also important to avoid fried and fatty foods such as creamy sauces, cakes, biscuits, crisps, and chocolate; and try to reduce consumption of salt, alcohol and coffee, all of which raise blood pressure if consumed in excess.

One of the best remedies available for the heart and circulation is hawthorn, which comes into fruit around this time of year.  Modern research has confirmed that hawthorn contains powerful antioxidants called flavonoids, and clinical trials support its use for this purpose.  Medical herbalists frequently use hawthorn in combination with other herbs for a range of problems affecting the heart and circulatory system.  It may be used with herbs such as cramp bark which relaxes blood vessels, motherwort which regulates the heartbeat, yarrow which removes excess fluid, lime flower which acts as a gentle relaxant, or artichoke which lowers cholesterol.  In some cases herbs such as these may be used to reduce the dose of orthodox medicines in consultation with the individual’s GP.

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New Acupuncurist to Join the Team at The Lismore Clinic

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

The Lismore Clinic is delighted to announce that Maggie Burns, acupuncturist, will be joining the team of practitioners at the clinic. Maggie is an experienced acupuncturist who qualified from the Acupuncture Foundation of Ireland (AFI) in Dublin. As part of her training she worked in acupuncture hospitals in Nanjing, China. Maggie has also undertaken a great deal of postgraduate training including: Auricular Acupuncture, Treatment of Sports Injuries with Acupuncture, Fertility Acupuncture, Acupuncture for Obstetrics, Applied Facial Diagnosis and Cosmetic Acupuncture.

Acupuncture is one aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which also includes Chinese Herbal Medicine, Food Therapy, Tuina Massage and Qi Gong. It has been widely used in China and the Far East for thousands of years, in the West since the 1970s, and is now recognized by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for its efficacy in the treatment of a wide range of clinical disorders.

Acupuncture is based on a 5,000 year old Chinese medical tradition that recognises channels (meridians) in the body through which the Qi(energy) of the body flows, connecting deeply with the internal organs. Along the superficial pathways are acupuncture points. Good health and resistance to disease depends on the smooth, unrestricted flow of abundant Qi within the channels, which nourishes the whole body. Emotional problems, lack of sleep, imbalanced eating habits or exercise routines, and poor lifestyle choices unbalance the smooth flow of Qi causing poor health. Acupuncture can help to redress the imbalance and restore health.

An acupuncture treatment involves the insertion of extremely fine, pre-sterilized, disposable needles to acupuncture points on the body surface. This reduces, increases, moves, or unblocks the Qi as required for each individual person, allowing it to flow freely, stimulating the body’s own healing powers. People generally find it very relaxing and often sleep once the needles are inserted. Acupuncture stimulates the immune system, promotes blood flow and aids better circulation of lymph.

Moxibustion and cupping may be used in addition to acupuncture. Moxibustion, (more commonly referred to as “moxa”), involves burning the mugwort herb over a particular area or acupuncture point on the body of the patient. It has a warming, tonifying effect, which promotes relaxation and healing. Cupping involves the use of gently heated cups applied to the skin to stimulate the circulation and release of toxins from the tissues. It has received extensive publicity in the recent Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, when the American swimming star, Michael Phelps appeared with cupping marks on his body.

In the hands of a fully qualified professional practitioner, the use of acupuncture is entirely safe and free of any harmful side-effects. It can be very safely combined with other therapies and with orthodox medical treatment. Acupuncture can be used for pain relief, (such as neck, back, hip and knee pain, arthritis, injuries and fibromyalgia). It is also helpful for a wide range of other conditions including headaches and migraines, insomnia, stress and anxiety, chronic fatigue, respiratory or digestive problems, infertility, and problems associated with periods and pregnancy.

For more information or to make an appointment, please contact Maggie at the Lismore Clinic 087 963 4988, or visit www.thelismoreclinic.ie. Maggie is a member of the Acupuncture Foundation Professional Association (AFPA), established in 1987, and European Traditional Chinese Medicine Association (ETCMA). Treatments are covered by the private healthcare insurance companies in Ireland such as Laya, Aviva, VHI, HSF and the St. Pauls Gárda Medical Association.

 

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Mediterranean diet more effective than statin drugs in treatment of heart disease

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

 A recent study has found that the Mediterranean diet is more effective than statin drugs in the treatment of heart disease, and people suffering from cardiovascular problems are 37% less likely to die early if their diet is based on healthy foods such as vegetables, fish, nuts and olive oil.

High cholesterol is a recognized risk factor for cardiovascular disease. It can adhere to the inner lining of the blood vessels and cause them to become narrow and hardened. If a blood vessel supplying the heart muscle becomes blocked completely, this results in a heart attack. Similarly, if a blood vessel supplying the brain becomes blocked, this causes a stroke. However, cholesterol is much more likely to adhere to blood vessels which are inflamed or damaged for other reasons, and many people can have high cholesterol levels without ever suffering from cardiovascular problems.

Cholesterol-lowering drugs such as Crestor, Lipitor, and Zocor, have been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes by about 24% in people already suffering from cardiovascular disease. However, they are increasingly being prescribed to otherwise healthy individuals with high cholesterol. A study carried out by researchers in Galway in 2013 showed that statin drugs not only triple the risk of coronary artery disease in otherwise healthy people, but also significantly increase the risk diabetes, cataracts and erectile dysfunction in young people, and increase the risk of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly.

This research, which was published in the Journal of Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases, is only one of a number of studies that question the practice of using statins for prevention of cardiovascular events in otherwise healthy people. There is mounting evidence that people with high cholesterol and other cardiovascular risk factors really need to rethink their approach to dealing with these problems.

The new study has proven that eating a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fish, nuts and olive oil, is by far the best way of reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Fresh fruit and vegetables contain antioxidants that help to prevent damage to the heart and blood vessels, while olive oil and oily fish help to prevent blood clots. 2-3 squares of good quality dark chocolate and a daily glass of red wine have been shown to have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system.

Avoid animal fats such as red meat and dairy products as much as possible; and especially trans-fats, which are found in some margarines and many processed foods. Exercising for at least 30 minutes every day helps to reduce blood pressure and stress levels, prevents obesity and diabetes, and strenghtens the heart and circulation. If you are a smoker then giving up smoking is the single most effective means of reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Stress is another important risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Stress raises blood pressure and increases heart rate, putting greater pressure on the heart and blood vessels. In addition, stress often causes people to engage in more activities which can damage the heart and blood vessels, such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol or coffee, eating the wrong foods, and being inactive.

In addition to diet and lifestyle changes, herbal medicine is very efficient in reducing cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol.  In many cases, herbs may be used to reduce the dose of orthodox medicines in consultation with the individual’s GP.

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New research shows that HRT triples risk of Breast Cancer

Sunday, August 28th, 2016

Women who use combined hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to control menopausal symptoms are almost 3 times more likely to develop breast cancer than those who don’t, according to a new study by the Institute of Cancer Research in London. It is estimated that one in ten women in their 50s currently take HRT to control menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes, depression, sleeplessness, exhaustion, and a whole host of other debilitating symptoms.

Concerns about the safety of HRT are not new. In 2002, it was discovered that HRT significantly increases the risk of developing breast cancer, heart disease, and stroke, which led to a 50% reduction in the number of women using HRT. It was initially thought that using HRT for a short period of time would minimize the risks, however, further research published in the Lancet last year showed that using HRT, even for a short period of time, is also associated with a significantly increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.

In spite of this, in November last year, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) attempted to reassure women about the safety of HRT for the treatment of menopausal symptoms. However, the new study suggests that the risks associated with HRT have been vastly underestimated.

Fortunately there is an alternative which is both safe and effective: herbal medicine has been used around the world for centuries to ease women through the change of life, and combined with an appropriate diet, it can make all the difference during this challenging time.

The first line of treatment is to use herbs which help to reduce the impact of declining natural hormones.  These herbs contain substances that are similar to oestrogen, but also act in other ways to reduce menopausal symptoms.  Perhaps the most well known of these is black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) which has been shown to be effective in reducing hot flushes, vaginal dryness and mood changes. Two or more of these herbs may be chosen depending on their other effects.  For example, black cohosh is very useful for joint stiffness, while wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) reduces cramping pains.

Other natural substances that affect hormone levels are the isoflavones, which are found in Red clover (Trifolium pratens). They are also present in linseeds and soya products.  These foods may be incorporated into the diet, together with foods containing essential fatty acids (such as oily fish), which are important in healthy hormone functioning. Contrary to some reports, herbs and foods which contain phytoestrogens do not increase the risk of developing cancer, in fact they have been shown to significantly reduce the risks, and are perfectly safe for use in women who have a history of oestrogen-dependent cancer, provided they are not taking other hormonal medications, such as tamoxifen.

The second task of herbal treatment is to address the symptoms.  The most common of these is hot flushing and night sweats.  Herbs such as sage (Salvia officinalis) can dramatically reduce sweating, while hops (Humulus lupulus) is useful for insomnia due to night sweats.  It is important to avoid the foods that can trigger this symptom such as caffeine, spices, and alcohol.  Anxiety also triggers hot flushes so try to reduce stress levels if possible.

Following an in-depth consultation with a medical herbalist, several herbs are selected on the basis of each woman’s unique symptom picture and blended in an individual prescription. Medical Herbalists generally use herbal preparations which are stronger than those which are available over the counter, and are therefore more appropriate for moderate to severe symptoms.

Rather than waiting until symptoms appear, it is advisable for any woman in her forties to begin to incorporate helpful strategies into her diet and lifestyle.  This will ensure measures are in place to reduce symptoms when hormone levels start to decline.  It is also important to eat a healthy diet, to get enough exercise, and to have your cholesterol and blood pressure checked on a regular basis. These simple measures will help to prevent heart disease and osteoporosis.  For those considering coming off HRT, it is preferable to reduce the dose very slowly.  Herbal treatment should be commenced six to eight weeks before starting to reduce dose of HRT

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Festival of Food

Monday, April 11th, 2016

For the past 20 years or so, concern has been growing about the quality of food available to consumers, and the impact that the food we buy and eat has on both our health and on the health of the environment.

Much of the fruit on supermarket shelves has been sprayed with chemicals that slow down the ripening process, and by the time the fruit reaches the supermarket shelf it may already be several months old. In addition to the long-term effects of these chemicals on the body, this also affects the nutrient content of the fruit. Vegetables such as potatoes may also be treated with chemicals to prevent them from sprouting in the bag.

Virtually all milk sold in Ireland, with a few rare exceptions, is now pasteurized and homogenized. I suspect it is no coincidence that the rate of dairy intolerance (which now affects an unprecedented number of infants, as well as older children and adults), has dramatically increased with the growing consumption of homogenized milk products. Likewise, the growing incidence of gluten-intolerance and celiac disease seems to echo the increasing popularity of bread made using industrial processes and chemical flour improvers, which lower the cost of production and extend the shelf life of the finished product.

However, of greatest concern is the result of a study conducted by the World Cancer Research Fund, which found that consuming processed meat significantly increases the risk of bowel cancer, which is the second most common cancer in Ireland. The increased risk is thought to be mainly due to the various additives such as nitrites which make the meat look more pink.

In response to these issues, a number of groups, such as Slow Food Ireland and the Farmers Market movement, have sprung up to promote the availability of good food, which is produced as locally and as naturally as possible, and which pays a fair price to the producer while still being affordable to the consumer. Fresh, unprocessed, meat, chicken and fish bought from local suppliers benefits your health and well-being, as well as supporting local businesses. Likewise, eating plenty of vegetables which are locally-produced, fresh, unprocessed and preferably organic is one of the best things you can do for your health and for the local economy.

This weekend, Dungarvan will once again host the very popular “West Waterford Festival of Food” from Thursday 14th to Sunday 17th April. Its ethos is one of supporting local food producers, and there is a strong emphasis on natural food and healthy eating. As well as the festival market, fine dining experiences, and cookery demonstrations by well-known chefs, the festival programme includes various nutrition and health seminars at the ‘Health Hub’, a brand new addition to the festival, located in Friary Steet, just next to the Town Hall Theatre.

The Health Hub will be showcasing superfoods, fermented foods, and organic wine, and discussing various health topics such as nutrition for pregnancy and infancy, health food fads, and GMO. On Saturday 16th April at 11.30am, I will be hosting an event entitled “The Spice of Life” at the Health Hub, which will look at how to use common culinary herbs and spices for health and healing. Tickets for this event are €5, available for the festival of food website http://www.westwaterfordfestivaloffood.com

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Good News for Chocoholics

Monday, March 21st, 2016

It’s almost Easter and many children and adults alike are looking forward to a great excuse to indulge.  Chocolate is usually thought of as a tempting but very unhealthy treat, but is it really as bad as all that?

Chocolate is made from the beans of the cocoa plant (Theobroma cacao).  These contain a group of compounds called flavonoids, which act as antioxidants, helping to prevent cell damage, and thus providing a degree of protection against cardiovascular disease. A study published in the European Heart Journal found that consuming chocolate lowered blood pressure and helped to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Chocolate is also very rich in magnesium.  This important mineral increases energy levels, helps to prevent heart irregularities and muscle cramps, assists in calcium absorption, and is essential for healthy nervous system functioning.  People who experience chocolate cravings often find that these can be reduced by eating other magnesium-rich foods (such as whole grains, nuts and dark green leafy vegetables) or by taking a magnesium supplement.

Cocoa beans contain a fat known as cocoa butter.  This can be used as a soothing skin moisturizer, which is effective in preventing wrinkles and stretch marks.  It melts just below body temperature and is therefore easily absorbed and can also be used as a base for herbal suppositories and pessaries.

On the down side, chocolate contains large quantities of oxalic acid, which can exacerbate joint problems such as rheumatoid arthritis and gout.  The acidic effect in the body is also detrimental to other inflammatory conditions such as acne and psoriasis.  A more alkaline alternative is carob, a chocolate substitute that is widely available from health food stores.

The uplifting effect of chocolate is partly due to the sugar content and partly due to a caffeine-like substance called theobromine, which has a stimulant effect.  However this initial boost is quickly followed by a sharp dip in blood sugar levels.  The inevitable consequence is a craving for more chocolate, for another hit.  Anyone who has attempted (successfully or otherwise) to give up chocolate for Lent will testify to its addictive quality!  Over time, excessive chocolate intake can lead to excessive weight gain and depleted energy stores, and in young children it may be partly responsible for the increasing occurrence of hyperactivity.

Unfortunately most of the chocolate that is readily available in the shops contains higher amounts of sugar and milk than of cocoa.  These contribute to conditions involving excessive mucus production such as sinusitis and asthma.  Excessive sugar consumption also increases the risk of diabetes and other health problems.

In order to benefit from the more positive attributes of chocolate and to minimise the detrimental effects, choose a good quality dark chocolate which contains at least 70% cocoa, such as O’Conaill, Green & Blacks or Lindt and remember: all things in moderation!

 

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