Is Eating Organic Worth It?

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There is an ongoing debate about whether organic foods are really better for you than conventionally grown foods.  As it is more expensive, it is important to know whether it is worth the money or not.

For a product to become certified organic it must pass several criteria including being free from synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, antibiotics and food additives.   These products are then labeled with the logo of the certifying body.  These organizations include the USDA, Australian Certified Organic, Canada Organic, or EU Organic Farming.  Some products aim to deceive by putting the word organic in their name, but this does not necessarily mean it is organic.  In Australia, several ‘organic water’ bottlers have been forced to remove the word organic from their name.  Water cannot be organic or otherwise.  Also, organic does not necessarily mean it is free from genetic modification, but these often go together.

Pesticides are made to kill bugs on plants. Although they are allowed in low amounts on food, it only makes sense that if they can kill big bugs, that they could kill the small bugs in your gut.  Dr. Mark Donohoe is a GP in Sydney who previously thought there was no reason to eat organic, has recently discovered that pesticides can have a big effect on your normal gut bacteria. Good gut bacteria are needed to keep the bad bacteria at bay.  An overgrowth of bad gut bacteria has been connected to everything from IBS and headaches, to arthritis and weight gain.  With almost every health complaint, I start by making sure a patient’s gut is functioning properly.  To learn more about the importance of your gut bacteria, read my article 10% Human.

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It is still unknown the extent of the health problems that could be caused by pesticides but it is hard to believe they can kill bugs without affecting us.  The use of neonicotinoid insecticides has been banned in the EU due to its effects on bee health.  Beekeepers in Australia are calling for a ban on them too.

A study published in 2013 found that fruit flies fed organic produce had greater fertility and lived longer. These flies were also more active and showed more resistance to stress.  Another study published in 2015 found that tomatoes that were grown organically were subjected to more stress. This stress caused them to be smaller, but higher in vitamin C and phenols.  Phenols can act as antioxidants that may help lower cholesterol.

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Several studies have shown the effects pesticides can have on our health. Organophosphates have been banned in Europe and restricted in the US but are still widely used in Australia. These pesticides are linked to reduced IQ, weight gain, Type II diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Children under 7 years old do not have the enzyme required to excrete these chemicals from their little bodies so it just builds up. It impairs the development of the prefrontal cortex in the brain decreasing cognitive skills and short term memory.  Children with higher levels of metabolites in their urine are more likely to develop ADHD as well as asthma.

A mother’s exposure to dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE), a breakdown product of DDT, during pregnancy is associated with a higher risk of asthma and wheezing in young children. Children with higher levels in their blood are also more likely to have asthma. Exposure to permethrin, an insecticide commonly used to kills lice and often used on cotton, corn, wheat and alfalfa, is also associated with a higher risk of wheezing and asthma.

A 2012 study found a higher risk of being exposed to antibiotic resistant bacteria after eating conventional chicken or pork as well as higher concentrations of pesticides in the urine of children eating conventionally grown foods.

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Lowering your pesticide concentration isn’t hard.  It can take as little as 2 weeks of eating organic food to lower the levels of many of these chemicals in your body.  Check out this video about a family who ate only organic food for 2 weeks.

To keep the cost of buying organic down, you can pick and choose some foods to buy organic and other conventional. Pesticides bioaccumulate in animals so eating organic meat and dairy is the most important first step. In Australia the foods with the highest pesticide residues are, in order, apples, wheat, strawberries, pears, grapes, lettuce, nectarines and peaches.  If you eat apples every day, but only have pears once in awhile, then you want to buy organic apples but could let the pears slide.  The foods with the lowest pesticide residues are onions, sweet corn, pineapple, asparagus, sweet peas, mango, eggplant, kiwi and cabbage. These foods are safer to eat conventional. Buying seasonal, local food is also cheaper.  When you do buy conventional produce, make sure that you wash it well.  Studies have found that washing with baking soda gets off the most pesticide residue but you can also use a 10% salt solution.  Here are some instructions for washing your fruits and vegetables. Remember though, just because it is organic, doesn’t mean it is good for you. Organic sugar is still sugar!

If you have any questions about organic produce, talk to your local naturopath.  Next week I’ll talk about the preservatives found in many processed foods and why you need to avoid them for your health.

 

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Healthy Travel

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Many of us travel from time to time for business or pleasure. No matter where you are going, you don’t want to arrive sick. This can be especially problematic during plane travel as everyone is in a small space with limited air circulation. Here are a few suggestions that can help keep you healthy and rested during flights. I like to keep everything all in a small case that fits in the seat pocket so I can access them at all times.

Vitamin C is great for helping your immune system to function properly. You can take 1 gram every 2 hours while you are flying then take 2-3 grams/day while you are away. If you feel like you are getting sick while away, increase this to 5-6 grams per day. If you get loose stools, decease the dose. Saccharomyces boulardii is a specific strain of probiotic that is great for helping diarrhoea. It doesn’t need to be stored in the fridge so it is easy to travel with. If you have symptoms, take up to 2 capsules, 2x/day. Flying can be stressful not matter what your circumstances and stress does a number on the immune system. Rescue Remedy can be calming as well as help stave off headaches or colds.

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Bring your own water bottle. The occasional small glass of water is not enough, especially for long fights. The air on planes is dry, so you need to drink more than usual. If you are on a flight that is more than a couple hours, take electrolyte tablets with you as plane (get it, plane) water just won’t cut it.  This is especially important if you ever get headaches on the plane.  These are my favourite as they are low in sugar – https://nuunlife.com (I have no affiliation with them, just really like the product). I put half a tablet in the little plastic cups you get on the plane.

A saline nasal spray can also be helpful in such a dry environment. Bugs love dry nasal passages. Keep them moist to ward off getting sick and also to prevent cracking and bleeding. Thyme oil is also great at killing bugs. Put a few drops on a cloth and breathe deeply.

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If you are traveling a long distance it is important to sleep on the plane and adjust to the time change easily. Melatonin can be helpful for this. It occurs naturally in your body to maintain your circadian rhythm, but if you don’t sleep properly your body won’t make enough. Take 1-2 mg as you try to sleep on the plane, and then when you go to bed at your destination. Keep taking each night until you get a good night’s sleep. This can be taken in conjunction with some prescription sleep medication to improve the quality of sleep, but please talk to a naturopath before doing this. It is also helpful to take an eye mask. Bodies like to sleep in the dark, so your sleep will be much better if you wear an eye mask.

Last but certainly not least, exercise! The longer the flight the more important it is. You aren’t expected to stick to your regular fitness routine on a plane, but you want to get up every 1-2 hours to keep your blood circulating and prevent clots. If you can’t get up because the person next to you is sound asleep, you can still keep your blood moving – flex your muscles, starting at your toes and working your way up to your buttocks. Do this 10-15 times every hour to keep your blood moving.

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Here are a few non-health related suggestions from a veteran traveler:

  • Give a photocopy of your ticket and passport to a friend or family member staying at home. You can also scan them both and email them to yourself so that you can get a copy anywhere you go.
  • Arrive early and ask about the seating. If flying economy, the best seats are usually the ones either right behind business class or by the emergency exits as they have more leg room and can sometimes get up without disturbing the person beside you. These are sometimes saved until the day of the flight. Ask at the gate if you can change to a better seat.
  • Put all your carry-on luggage in a small rolling suitcase or a comfortable backpack as you will have to walk far through the airport.
  • Wear comfortable clothes. Even if you have to go to a meeting at the other end, it is nicer to travel in something comfortable, and then you can change either on the plane or before you get your luggage.
  • Take a toothbrush and toothpaste to brush your teeth on the plane
  • Always pack a spare pair of undies and a shirt in your carry-on.  You never know if your luggage will be arriving with you.

If you have any questions about travel, talk to your local naturopath.  Happy travels!

 

 

 

 

How to lose weight … slowly!

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I don’t like to use the word diet, as that implies a sudden change in what you are eating for a short period of time.  Losing weight, in a healthy way, requires a lifestyle change.  No, you won’t be dropping kilograms each week, but you will slowly notice that your clothes are a bit looser, you have more energy, and that you just feel happier. Everyone has their own reasons to lose weight and become healthier.  Find yours and start today.

There are basics that apply to everyone, which I will talk about in this article, but each person is going to be different.  If you eat and exercise the exact same as someone else, you won’t both lose or gain the same amount of weight, or both be your healthiest self. When I was taking my degree the college had a program called “Be Your Best Self”.  I love this title because that what’s its all about.  It’s not about how you compare to someone else. Be the best you, you can be.  Finding the healthiest lifestyle for you may take some trial and error, but you will get there eventually, and you will feel better for it.

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The most important part of a healthy lifestyle is what you eat. If you have seen me as a patient, you know my plate analogy.  Cut your dinner plate in half and put veggies on one side.  On the other half, make two-thirds protein and the last third carbohydrates. If you have a sweet tooth it is usually because you are not eating enough protein.  Make sure you have protein in every meal as well as plenty of good fats to make you feel fuller longer. Don’t be afraid of healthy fats.  I have lots of information on my blog explaining why you need them and which ones to pick. Drinking plenty of water is also important for losing weight as it helps make you feel full and improves your metabolism.

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What you eat is about 80% of losing weight, but exercise is still needed to achieve a healthy lifestyle.  It improves cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, depression, sleep apnoea, sleep, arthritis, immune health, and how you look and feel. Just to name a few. It will also help you lose weight when combined with other healthy lifestyle choices. Read here for tips on how much you need to exercise.

Last, but certainly not least, you need to get enough sleep and reduce your stress level. If you need help with sleep, check out my blog article with some sleep hygiene suggestions. In times of stress, our bodies like to hold on to fat ‘just in case’.  Make sure you are getting enough rest at night, and taking time during the day to let your body and mind relax.

Food intolerances and other digestive issues can be a barrier to losing weight and being healthy.  If you are eating foods that don’t agree with you, your body could have a lot of inflammation. As with stress, it makes your body want to hold on to fat ‘just in case’.  If you have any digestive issues, make sure you talk to your local naturopath so you can start on your journey to a healthy lifestyle.

 

Here we go again … Flu Season!

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Flu season is coming around again (for those of us in the southern hemisphere that is). If you caught the flu last year, you know that is was a harsh one. And if you got vaccinated you probably got the flu anyway, because the vaccine was a very poor match for the prominent flu types. It was only 5-37% effective depending on the strain. I’m not going to discuss whether or not you should vaccinate for the flu. That’s your choice. But given how ineffective it was last year, I thought you could use a few other tools to help you stay healthy this flu season.

The first place to start is hygiene. Wearing surgical masks and washing hands, decreased flu-like symptoms by 75% in a study group of university students living in residence together. That’s huge! I know we don’t all want to walk around wearing a mask, but you can make sure you wash your hands when you get home and before eating. And if you have to be in contact with someone who has the flu, I think a mask would be worthwhile.

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The next important step is to keep up your immune system should you get exposed to the flu. Make sure you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and avoid sugar as much as you can. Sugar makes your immune cells less effective for hours after, so try to watch the extra treats especially if a friend or family member already has the flu.

You want to make sure your gut bacteria are happy. The good bacteria in your body help to fight off invading pathogens. You can keep them happy by consuming fermented products such as kombucha, pickles, sauerkraut, tempeh and apple cider vinegar, eating yogurt with active cultures, or taking a probiotic supplement. For more information on gut health, read my article about your microbiome.

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It is important to take care of your mental health if you want to keep yourself physically healthy. Psychological stress is associated with a greater risk of depression, heart disease and infectious diseases. So take time out – exercise, garden, meditate, whatever it is that helps you to relax. And make sure you are getting enough sleep. There is nothing that your body finds more stressful than not getting enough ZZZZZs.  Read here about how you can improve your sleep.

Exercise is important for everyone. Appropriate exercises will be different for each person given their individual level of fitness. To keep your immune system at its best you want at least a brisk 30-minute walk each day. If you are training for an event such as a marathon though, this can also put a strain on your immune system. A happy medium is best.

Hot-Cold showers are an excellent way of improving your immune system, increasing circula­tion and elevating energy levels. After finishing your regular shower routine, do 20 seconds of cold and 1 minute of hot. Alternate 2-3 times, ending with cold. I know how it sounds, but it really works. Try it! Look how happy it is making this baby:

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There are also several herbs and supplements you can take to help you stay healthy. Autumn and spring are particularly stressful on our bodies as the weather can’t decide what its doing. Try Change of Season Soup, which is full of traditional Chinese herbs for boosting your immune system. I sell this through Emily’s Little Tea Company, but don’t have it up on the website yet.  Drink this tea daily, or make it into a delicious soup. You can also take daily vitamin C and zinc to improve your immune system.

If you find you are always getting sick, see your local naturopath. There could be an underlying issue that might be easily fixed with some diet or lifestyle changes. Stay healthy!