WORLD DIABETES DAY

Monday, November 13th, 2017

It is estimated that the total number of people living with diabetes in Ireland is over 225,000. 14th November is World Diabetes day, which aims to educate the public about this condition.

There are two main types of Diabetes mellitus: Type-1 Diabetes, which most commonly occurs during childhood, is an autoimmune disease that destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.  Without insulin, sugar from the bloodstream cannot be absorbed by body cells, and the excess sugar accumulates in the bloodstream, causing serious complications. Symptoms usually develop very quickly, and unless regular insulin injections are given, diabetic ketoacidosis develops which can lead to coma and death. In individuals undergoing treatment for type-1 diabetes, taking too much insulin, not eating regularly, or over-exercising may lead to hypogycaemia (low blood sugar), which can be equally dangerous.

Type-2 Diabetes, which is much more common, is a condition in which the cells do not respond to insulin. ‘Insulin resistance’ tends to develop very slowly over a number of years before the blood sugar level becomes high enough for a diagnosis of type-2 diabetes. Unlike type-1 diabetes, it rarely causes acute ketoacidosis; however, severe long-term complications can result from untreated type-2 diabetes. The main chronic complications of diabetes are caused by damage to blood vessels by elevated blood sugar.  This can lead to serious problems such as cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, blindness, erectile dysfunction and nerve damage.

Hormonal imbalances play an important role in the development of type-2 diabetes. For example, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), and increased secretion of cortisol (a stress hormone) can all trigger insulin resistance. Central obesity (fat distributed mainly around the waist) is also a predisposing factor for type-2 diabetes. Type-2 diabetes most commonly occurs in older people, but in recent times it has started to affect children and adolescents, probably due to the increased prevalence of childhood obesity. Genetic factors also contribute to an individual’s risk of developing both type-1 and type-2 diabetes.

As is so often the case, prevention and early detection are the best approach to managing this disease. The main warning signs of diabetes include: Frequent urination, excessive thirst, increased hunger, a tingling sensation or numbness in the hands or feet, erectile dysfunction, slow-healing wounds, and frequent infections.

Type-1 diabetes must be treated with regular insulin injections. However, managing the diet also plays an important role in maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and preventing complications. Type 2 diabetes can often be managed with nutrition and herbal medicine alone, however, more advanced cases may also require treatment with drugs such as metformin, or insulin to control blood sugar levels. It is also important for diabetic patients to consult a qualified podiatrist (foot care specialist), since diabetic nerve damage may cause numbness of the feet and impaired wound healing, which may lead to gangrene in severe cases.

In many cases, the risk of type-2 diabetes can be reduced with diet and exercise. Herbal medicine can also help to prevent diabetes in susceptible individuals, and help to balance blood sugar levels and prevent complications in those who have already developed the disease. Medical herbalists provide individually tailored advice about preventing and managing diabetes with nutrition, and choose specific combinations of herbs to suit the individual. For those taking orthodox medication, the herbal prescription is specifically designed not to interact with other treatments.

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The South East’s first Training Centre for Herbal Medicine students offers free consultations for patients.

Monday, October 2nd, 2017

The Lismore Herbal Medicine Student Training Clinic, the first training clinic for students of herbal medicine to be established in the South East, is offering free herbal medicine consultations for patients by herbal medicine students, under the supervision of a qualified practitioner.

The student-training clinic, which provides hands-on clinical training and experience for Herbal Medicine students during their final two years of training, was set up by Marie Reilly, a practicing Medical Herbalist at the Lismore Clinic, lecturer at the Irish College of Phytotherapy (Coláiste Luibheanna) and clinical co-ordinator for the Heartwood herbal medicine professional training programme in 2011.

Two colleges in Ireland currently provide training for medical herbalists in Ireland: the Irish College of Phytotherapy (Coláiste Luibheanna), and Heartwood Herbal Medicine Training. The training clinic also welcomes students from herbal medicine courses in the UK, such as University of Westminster, and Lincoln College. Professional training for medical herbalists includes a minimum of 500 hours of Clinical Practice at an approved training clinic.

According to Marie Reilly, “In today’s society, people demand high standards of healthcare and expect their chosen therapy to be both safe and effective. It is therefore extremely important to provide the highest standards of training for medical herbalists, and hands-on clinical practice is perhaps the most important part of this”.

Many people have attended the student training clinic with all sorts of problems including headaches and migraine, recurrent infections, digestive problems such as constipation and IBS, skin problems such as eczema and acne, thyroid problems and other hormonal imbalances.

Student training at The Lismore Clinic takes place once a month on a Saturday. The next clinic will take place this Saturday, 7th October. Consultations are free of charge and are conducted by a final year herbal medicine student and observed by up to 6 other students in their final two years of training. Patients will therefore only have to pay for their medicines. This not only provides a valuable learning experience for the students, but also offers the opportunity for individuals who may not otherwise be able to afford it, to experience the benefits of herbal medicine.

The student training clinic is fully supervised by Medical Herbalist, Marie Reilly MSc, MNIMH, MIRH, DipCoun, who also runs her full-time private practice at The Lismore Clinic. Marie has been practicing as a medical herbalist in Lismore for the past 13 years, and has taught on both the BSc Herbal Sciences course at CIT and the Postgraduate Diploma in Clinical Herbal Medicine at the Irish College of Phytotherapy. She has lectured at the Cork Institute of Technology Herbal Science Symposium; at Botanica 2014 (Trinity College Dublin); and at the National Institute of Medical Herbalists Annual Conference. She has also provided numerous CPD seminars on various subjects for practitioners of herbal medicine.

For further information about the student training clinic, or to make an appointment for a consultation, please contact The Lismore Clinic on 058 53200. (Please make sure to specify whether you are interested in the student training clinic or private practice).

 

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Solas Cancer Support Services at the Lismore Clinic

Monday, August 14th, 2017

We are delighted to announce that we are currently working in partnership with Solas Cancer Support Centre, to provide support services to people affected by cancer and their families, through the Lismore Clinic.

The Solas Cancer Support Service was established in Waterford in 1999, to provide a wide variety of support services, including counselling and relaxation therapies, to people affected by cancer and their families. Last year, Solas set up a new service for the people of West Waterford, at the Dungarvan Alternative Health Clinic, and now also provides support services to people affected by cancer and their families, through the Lismore Clinic. This allows easier access to services for people living in areas such as Lismore, Cappoquin, Araglin, Ballyduff and Tallow.

When someone contacts the Solas cancer support service for the first time, a relaxed, informal introduction meeting is arranged with the Solas Client Services Co- ordinator. This allows the individual time to reflect on their experience in a safe and confidential space.  The individual has an opportunity to explore their feelings and needs, and to consider the resources that are available through Solas, that may be therapeutic and empowering to them.

The meeting is a foundation block in nurturing a sense of safety, trust, respect and belonging within the Solas Cancer Support service, for each individual. Following the introduction meeting, appointments for the appropriate services may be arranged by the Client Services Coordinator. The support services that are available at the Lismore Clinic include Counselling, Art therapy and Craniosacral Therapy and Massage.

Counselling is a professional, therapeutic listening process offering confidentiality, understanding and empathy in a non-judgemental, respectful space. Counselling support aims to empower the individual with personal clarity and confidence to cope with their personal challenges.

Art therapy is a model of counselling which uses imagery as a medium of self-expression. Art therapy supports individuals to explore, communicate and process challenging emotions. It is particularly effective for children and adolescents experiencing distress.

Massage is a professional therapeutic ‘touch therapy’, delivered for the purpose of symptomatic stress relief. A rhythmic, systematic application of pressure by the hands of the Therapist can relieve tension from muscles, improve circulation, reduce swelling, ease discomfort and promote an enhanced sense of well-being.

All of the practitioners at the Lismore Clinic are caring individuals who are  fully qualified in their particular therapy, and have a great deal of experience working with people affected by cancer and their families. If you or someone in your family is affected by cancer, and feel that the Solas Cancer Support service may be of help, please call 051 304 604 or email: info@solascentre.ie to arrange an introductory meeting.

The Solas Cancer Support Service is a charity 100% reliant on income raised through fundraising to support our services. If you are interested in organising an event for Solas, no matter how big or small it might be, please contact Ann Marie on 051 304604 or email annmarie@solascentre.ie.

 

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Psoriasis

Monday, August 7th, 2017

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease, which causes skin cells to multiply up to 10 times faster than normal. This results in raised, red spots, or larger plaques, which are usually covered with white scales. The lesions may be itchy and can crack and bleed.  August is psoriasis awareness month, which aims to provide information to the public about psoriasis, in order to help sufferers to feel less self-conscious, and to inform the public that it is not a contagious condition.

Psoriasis most commonly starts between the ages of around 10 and 25. The tendency to develop the condition is genetic, but the onset may be triggered by an infection (such as strep throat), or by emotional stress, injury to the skin, or use of certain medications, such as beta blockers, and ibuprofen. Psoriasis is exacerbated by excessive alcohol consumption, smoking and obesity

Psoriasis most commonly affects the elbows, knees, and scalp. However, plaques can appear on any part of the body. A form of psoriasis called ‘flexural psoriasis’ causes smooth (non-scaly) inflamed areas in the skin folds, such as the underarms, groin, between the buttocks and under the breasts.

Psoriasis may be associated with discoloration and pitting of the nails, and the nails may also begin to crumble or detach from the nail bed. Furthermore, up to 30% of people with psoriasis go on to develop psoriatic arthritis, which leads to pain and swelling in the joints. People with psoriasis are also more prone to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other autoimmune conditions.

Unfortunately psoriasis is also a major cause of depression and low self-esteem. Sufferers often feel self-conscious about their appearance and cover their skin, even though psoriasis benefits from exposure to sunlight, and may become increasingly itchy if the person gets too hot.

Psoriasis is one of the most difficult conditions to treat, and there is no permanent cure, although various treatments can help to keep symptoms under control and minimize the lesions, while some patients achieve complete remission.

Orthodox treatments include steroid creams or in severe cases, immune suppressants, which are associated with serious side effects. Other treatments that are proven to be beneficial for psoriasis include dead-sea bath salts, sunlight exposure, and emollient creams to prevent dryness and cracking. Useful supplements include Vitamins A, and D, and Fish oils. Ensure your diet is rich in oily fish, vegetables and green tea, and avoid consumption of red meat, wheat (and other gluten-containing grains), alcohol and coffee. If you are overweight try to lose weight and maintain a normal BMI.

Herbal medicines that can help with psoriasis include sarsaparilla and Oregon grape to normalize immune function and treat any chronic infection, plus Gotu kola and liquorice to reduce inflammation and stress. Creams containing Aloe vera and wintergreen can reduce inflammation topically. If you are suffering from psoriasis, a visit to your local Medical Herbalist can provide a uniquely tailored blend of herbs with advice about diet and nutritional supplements to reduce symptoms.

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World Breastfeeding Week

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

This week is National Breastfeeding Week, which aims to raise awareness of the many benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child.  It is an important initiative, particularly in light of the fact that Ireland has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in Europe: Only about 40% of new mothers in Ireland initiate breastfeeding and many give up before the child is four months old.

Breast milk is a specific food, which has been designed and perfected by nature to provide exactly the right components needed for the growth and development of human infants. Studies have repeatedly shown that breastfed babies are afforded protection against a wide range of problems, not just during infancy, but also for years afterwards, and even into adulthood.

Breastfed babies are significantly less likely to develop allergies than babies fed with formula milk, and they are also less likely to develop illnesses such as chest and ear infections and tummy bugs.  This is because at birth, a baby has no functional immune system of his own: the mother’s body makes milk especially designed to provide protection from the specific infections which both mother and baby come into contact with.

Breastfeeding significantly reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (cot death), and older children who were breastfed are less susceptible to dental caries and are less likely to need orthodontic treatments. They also have higher verbal performance and IQ scores.  During adulthood, people who were breastfed are less likely to develop obesity and diabetes.  They are also less susceptible to infection by Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that causes gastritis, peptic ulcer and gastric cancer.

For the mother, breastfeeding significantly reduces the risk of developing osteoporosis and breast, ovarian and cervical cancers, not to mention getting back in shape faster. Breastfeeding burns at least an extra 600 calories per day, so if you have put on extra weight during pregnancy this will help you to shift it much more easily.

Despite these numerous benefits for both mother and baby, there seems to be a perception that breastfeeding is difficult or that it can tie you down. However, it is actually far easier, cheaper, and altogether more convenient than buying formula, sterilizing bottles, and listening to a crying baby while the milk warms.

Breastfeeding means that you don’t have to plan ahead when going out: you always have exactly the right amount of milk with you, at exactly the right temperature. Even the disturbed nights are so much less difficult when you don’t have to get up to make a bottle: Just pick up the baby and hop back into bed.

Even if you are planning on going back to work, to breastfeed your baby for the first few weeks (or even just the first few days) is the greatest gift you can give, both for your baby and for yourself.  If you want to continue breastfeeding when you return to work you can give bottles of either expressed or formula milk while you’re away, and continue to breastfeed at other times. If you want to do this it is worth introducing a daily bottle of expressed milk at around four weeks, since this is the ideal time for a baby to master feeding from both breast and bottle. Of course for those women who, for a variety of reasons, cannot breastfeed or find breastfeeding extremely difficult, it is reassuring that babies can thrive on formula milk.

If you do choose to breastfeed there are a number of herbal remedies that can help.  For example, herbal ointments containing calendula or chamomile are soothing and healing for sore and cracked nipples, and are also safe for baby; and surprising relief from engorged breasts comes in the shape of a slightly bruised cabbage leaf in each cup of your bra!

Internally, Fennel tea increases the quantity of breast milk, and some of the constituents actually pass into the breast milk, helping to calm the baby’s digestion and ease colic. Nettle tea can help to produce a plentiful supply of rich, nourishing breast milk, and sage is useful for reducing the quantity of milk during weaning. Your local Medical Herbalist can provide an individually tailored blend of herbs together with advice about nutrition, to help support you and your little one on your breastfeeding journey.

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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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