Is Your Sleep Obstructed?


Girl and baby sleeping together

Sleep apnea is when there is a pause in breathing while asleep. There are 3 different kinds of sleep anpea – obstructive, central and mixed. Obstructive is when the airway has become narrow, blocked or floppy. Central is when the brain temporarily stops sending signals to the muscles that are responsible for controlling breathing. Mixed is a combination of the two. This article will focus on obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), although many of the causes and treatments are similar for all kinds.

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It is estimated that between 3% and 7% of the population have OSA but this number could be higher as many people do not seek treatment. Older men who are obese are more likely to have sleep apnea, but it can effect women and any age group including children. Obesity is the biggest risk factor for OSA so it is projected that OSA will become more common as the population becomes bigger and bigger.


OSA can cause increased blood pressure and is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. It is also associated with an increased risk of stroke, daytime drowsiness, motor vehicle accidents and lowered quality of life. Rates of depression are also higher in people with OSA so it is very important to seek treatment.

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Starting to exercise is the first place to begin if you have OSA. Studies have found that OSA improved even when participants didn’t lost weight. This can have a big effect on improving overall quality of life as decreased OSA will result in a better sleep leading to more energy during the day. Then you will be able to exercise more! You want to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week. See my blog article on exercise for weight loss for more details.

Studies have shown that acupuncture and herbal medicine are both safe and effective treatment options for OSA.

It is also important to avoid sleeping on your back. Purchase a pillow that encourages you to sleep on your side or you can sew a tennis ball into the back of your pyjamas to keep yourself on your side.

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Avoid alcohol. Drinking alcohol within 6 hours of sleep will worsen sleep apnea.

Quit smoking. Easier said than done, but smoking is another major risk factor for OSA.

Sleep hygiene is also very important.  Read my article about sleep to make sure your are doing everything you can to get a good night’s sleep.

If you think you may have OSA it is important to see your healthcare provider as even mild cases are associated with increased morbidity. For natural treatments, contact your local naturopath and start on your path to better sleep and better health.



Which Toothpaste Do You Use?

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There are so many brands of toothpaste out there advertising different benefits. How do you pick the best one for you? Many natural brands boast being free of certain ingredients. I’m going to discuss these ingredients and whether or not you should be avoiding them.

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a surfactant, meaning that it has one end that grabs onto water and the other grabs onto oil. This helps soaps and toothpastes to grab onto dirt and carry it away. They also create bubbles. Research has found that SLS does not cause cancer, but that doesn’t mean that you want it in your toothpaste. In my research I found studies that found that SLS decreases the amount of fluoride taken up by the enamel of the teeth thus decreasing its ability to help prevent cavities. It can also cause skin irritation, especially for people who are extra sensitive.

Parabens are preservatives used in toothpaste and other cosmetics. Research shows they are hormone disruptors, which can lead to reproductive issues amongst other health problems. They have also been found in breast cancer tissue and seem to collect in the axilla (armpit), which is the most common area for breast cancer. This doesn’t mean that they have caused the cancer, but it is certainly worrying that they are found, unchanged, in this tissue when they are most commonly used externally. The European Union and the Association of Southeast Asian Countries have both banned the 5 top parabens. Despite this precedent, and the Australian government acknowledging these potential risks, parabens are still allowed in Australia.

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Triclosan is an antibacterial agent commonly found in toothpaste and is probably the most important ingredient you should be avoiding. In 2016, the FDA in America banned the use of triclosan and other antibacterial agents in hand soaps. It is still allowed in other products such as toothpaste, mouthwash and hand sanitizer. It has not been restricted at all in Australia to date. Not only does everyday use of triclosan lead to antibiotic resistance, it persists in the environment creating carcinogenic toxins, it bioaccumulates in the body including in breast milk, it is a hormone disruptor associated with reproductive and developmental issues and it increases sensitivity to allergens. Antimicrobials should only be used if a person has a specific health condition, not everyday. A group of over 200 scientists and medical professionals developed the Florence Statement on Triclosan and Triclocarbon last year, recommending it be highly restricted. Unfortunately big brand toothpaste manufacturers are still trying to tell you it is safe. Read more about antibacterials in cleaners in my article about cleaning products.

If you are worried about your oral healthy, using a toothpaste containing Aloe Vera has been found to be as effective as triclosan in reducing plaque and gingivitis without the side effects.

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Toothpaste is not meant to be consumed so it is not considered a food. This means it does not have the same rules and restrictions regarding the safety and labelling of ingredients. If you want to avoid the ingredients discussed, you need to pick a toothpaste that specifically says doesn’t contain them. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want anything in my mouth that isn’t safe to swallow. If you have any questions about toothpaste or oral health, talk to your local naturopath.


Cancer Prevention

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Nobody wants to have cancer, but everyone has been touched by it in some way. The good news is that research estimates that only 5-10% of cancers are hereditary, meaning that 90-95% are due to lifestyle and environmental exposures and are therefore preventable. Some exposures such as pollution in the air we breathe are difficult to avoid, but there are many other steps we can take to minimise our risk of getting cancer.

The leading cause of preventable cancer is still smoking. But I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that it is bad for you so I won’t waste words here.

After not smoking, keeping yourself at a healthy weight is the most important thing you can do to prevent cancer. Obesity actually changes your hormones, causing increased inflammation, which can lead to cancer. Now I don’t want you to start the next trend diet. Very slow (as in 1-2kg per month) weight loss is the best for keeping off the weight. And the best way to do this is to just eat well and start exercising (exercise also independently decreases your risk of cancer!).

Woman running sunset

Besides causing weight gain and diabetes, research has found that sugar is a cause of cancer in and of itself. It was estimated that “in 2010, sugary drink consumption was responsible for about 184,450 deaths worldwide, with 133,000 deaths from diabetes, 45,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease and 6,450 deaths from cancer.” Recent research has discovered a possible mechanism. When we consume excess sugar, it feeds cancer cells. Now you may say that you don’t have cancer so it doesn’t apply to you. Our bodies are constantly making cancer cells, which our immune systems usually deal with before they get out of control. But if you are consuming more sugar than your body can handle, the cancer cells may win over your immune system.

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You also want to keep your digestive system and your gut flora (bacteria that live in your gut and keep you healthy) happy. Dysbiosis is when you have improper or a lack of gut bacteria and this is associated with some cancers. The best way to have a happy, healthy gut is to eat plenty of fibre-rich fruits, vegetables and legumes while minimising your intake of processed meats, which the World Health Organization has declared a cancer risk. Fibre is needed for proper digestion and can help to prevent colon cancer. You also want to eat most of your produce as organic because preservatives and pesticides can kill your friendly bacteria as well as increase your risk of ovarian and other cancers.

Although the government guidelines like to encourage everyone to drink lots of milk, data from some very large studies including the Nurses’ Health Study, has actually found an increased risk of some cancers with increased consumption. Not to mention that the Australian dietary guidelines say it is ok to drink sugar-laden flavoured milks and yogurts so that people are getting a double whammy. There are lots of other foods that contain plenty of calcium. The vegans of the worlds do not go around with rampant cases of osteoporosis.

The American Cancer Society says that half of all men and one-third of women will develop cancer in their lifetime. Don’t let yourself or your loved ones be part of this statistic. Talk to your local naturopath for advice on how to minimise your risk of cancer.

Are Your Cleaning Products Affecting Your Health?

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There are so many cleaning products on the market these days it is hard to know what is best for your health and what will clean your home. Although some products may clean well, they can have harmful effects on the health of you, your family and the environment. If you have a cupboard that the kids can’t go into, then you need to read this article.

Many households have a bottle of bleach in the laundry. This is the first thing that needs to leave your home. Bleach has been well known to irritate people who already have existing asthma, but in 2012, The Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics declared bleach an asthmagen. This means that bleach actually causes asthma in previously healthy individuals. Given the prevalence of asthma, and the sensitivity of respiratory tracts in young people, bleach should not be used in the home or at day care centres. Instead, most areas in the home can be cleaned with soap, a vinegar and water solution and a bit of elbow grease. For really messy areas such as the oven or the toilet, mix vinegar with baking soda.

In Australia, we can find many hand soaps that state they are antibacterial. These soaps have been found to be no better than regular soap at cleaning hands and specifically no better at decreasing the incidence of childhood pneumonia and diarrhoea. They have been found though, to increase the incidence of drug-resistant bacteria or super-bugs. If you get infected with a drug-resistant bacterium, we do not have medication that can help you. These antibacterial chemicals also negatively impact organisms, such as algae, in our waterways and may disrupt hormone signalling in mammals. In 2013, the FDA in America banned 19 antibacterial substances from over the counter soaps. These same chemicals are still allowed in Australia. Studies have found that the time spent washing your hands is the most important factor in getting them clean so just use regular soap and take your time.

Love the smell of freshly cleaned and scented laundry? This smell may be affecting your health. Your favourite scented laundry soap, dryer sheets and fabric softener might contain chemicals that disrupt hormones and cause asthma. Unfortunately these products are not required to have their entire ingredient list on the package, so it is difficult to know what you are buying. Buy unscented products and put your clothes out on the line for that fresh smell.

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Air fresheners are another way that people can unknowingly be putting chemicals into their bodies. The ingredients of these products are largely unregulated and many of them contain phthalates, which are hormone disruptors, and benzenes, which are known carcinogens. If you feel like your home needs freshening, buy some pot plants that are known to clean the air. Chrysanthemums remove ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde and xylene from the air. Spider plants and Boston ferns remove formaldehyde and xylene.

Tea tree oil is another great substitute for chemical cleansers as it can disinfect without causing asthma or antibiotic resistance. You can also just squeeze a lemon. Lemon juice can kill most of the bacteria in your home, while still being safe for the family.

Natural cleaning products

Everyday, research is coming out that discovers the effects of chemicals on our bodies. Keep your household cleaning products natural and keep you and your family healthy. Talk to your local naturopath if you have any questions about natural cleaning products.

Aspartame – As sweet as we think?

Artificial sweeteners

There is a lot of conflicting information about aspartame available to consumers.  Soft drink companies and government regulators will tell you that it is safe.  On the Food Standards Australia New Zealand website they state that “Scientific evidence to date supports the safety of aspartame for use as a sweetener in food.” but there is in fact a lot of scientific evidence to the contrary.

Aspartame was initially approved in the US in 1974.  The initial approval process raised allegations of bribery and corruption, which prompted many people to doubt its safety, but governments have stood firm in their statements that it is safe.  Over the years there has been increasing evidence that this is not true.

The initial fear was that aspartame could cause cancer.  These concerns seem to be unfounded, but scientists have discovered it causes other problems.  Most recently a French study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, followed 66,000 women over 14 years.  The authors found that, compared to regular soft drinks, there was a 15% higher risk for diabetes in those who drank just 500ml/week of diet soft drinks, and a 59% higher risk for those who drank 1.5L/week. Although aspartame is suggested for people with diabetes, it may actually be making it worse.

In a 2011 study in the US, people who drank diet soft drinks, as an overall group, had a 70% greater increase in waist circumference than non-users. Those who were in the highest bracket and drank two or more diet soft drinks a day had a 500% greater increase in waist circumference than non-users.

One of the metabolites of aspartame is methanol.  There have also been studies that have found detectable methanol in the blood after chronic consumption of aspartame affecting the brain.

There have been many studies on rats and mice consuming aspartame.  Although these can’t be directly applied to humans, it is cause for caution.  Aspartame has been found to promote hyperglycemia and insulin intolerance and impair spatial cognition and memory.  It may accelerate atherosclerosis as well as lead to liver damage.  Aspartame and saccharin consumption, when compared to sucrose (sugar), resulted in increased weight gain even at the same caloric intake.  So even if you are eating a low calorie diet, you may not lost weight simply because you are consuming products containing aspartame.

Clinically, I have had patients lose weight just from taking diet soft drinks out of their diet even if they replace them with regular ones.

But it isn’t all about weight gain.  Children whose mother’s drink artificially sweetened drinks during pregnancy, are more likely to have asthma and allergic rhinitis.  Also people who work in soft drink factories that have asthma can not go into the filling room containing artificial sweeteners.  Even those without asthma can develop asthmatic symptoms when they enter the filling room.

Artificial sweeteners are just that, artificial.  The body does not recognize them and so cannot digest them properly.  This can lead to the body holding on to fat and water in an attempt to dilute these unknown particles.

Make sure you always check labels especially on products that say they are low in sugar.  Aspartame can also be written as ‘951’ on an ingredients panel.

Although regulators have deemed it safe, there is enough evidence to the contrary that it doesn’t seem worth taking the chance.

951 Chemical


Abdel-Salam OM, Salem NA, El-Shamarka ME, Hussein JS, Ahmed NA, El-Nagar ME, Studies on the effects of aspartame on memory and oxidative stress in brain of mice. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci 2012 Dec; 16(15):2092-101.

Abhilash M, Paul MV, Varghese MV, Nair RH, Effect of long term intake of aspartame on antioxidant defense status in liver. Food Chem. Toxicol. 2011 Jun; 49(6):1203-7.

Collison KS, Makhoul NJ, Zaidi MZ, Saleh SM, Andres B, Inglis A, Al-Rabiah R, Al-Mohanna FA, Gender dimorphism in aspartame-induced impairment of spatial cognition and insulin sensitivity. PLoS ONE 2012; 7(4):e31570.

Collison KS, Makhoul NJ, Zaidi MZ, Al-Rabiah R, Inglis A, Andres BL, Ubungen R, Shoukri M, Al-Mohanna FA, Interactive effects of neonatal exposure to monosodium glutamate and aspartame on glucose homeostasis. Nutr Metab (Lond) 2012; 9(1):58.

Feijó Fde M, Ballard CR, Foletto KC, Batista BA, Neves AM, Ribeiro MF, Bertoluci MC, Saccharin and aspartame, compared with sucrose, induce greater weight gain in adult Wistar rats, at similar total caloric intake levels. Appetite 2013 Jan; 60(1):203-7.

Frincu-Mallos C, ENDO: Use of Artificial Sweeteners Linked to 2-Fold Increase in Diabetes. Medscape News.

Iyyaswamy A, Rathinasamy S, Effect of chronic exposure to aspartame on oxidative stress in the brain of albino rats. J. Biosci. 2012 Sep; 37(4):679-88.

Jang W, Jeoung NH, Cho KH, Modified apolipoprotein (apo) A-I by artificial sweetener causes severe premature cellular senescence and atherosclerosis with impairment of functional and structural properties of apoA-I in lipid-free and lipid-bound state. Mol. Cells 2011 May; 31(5):461-70.

Maslova E, Strom M, Olsen SF, Halldorsson TI, Consumption of Artificially-Sweetened Soft Drinks in Pregnancy and Risk of Child Asthma and Allergic Rhinitis. PLOS 2013 Feb 27.

Szponar J, Górska A, Majewska M, Tchórz M, Drelich G, Methanol poisoning in a 61-year old male with recently diagnosed diabetes–a case report. Prz. Lek. 2011; 68(8):521-2.

What’s the Deal with Dairy?

Dairy Cow

There is a lot of controversy regarding the consumption of dairy products. The Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest a moderate intake of reduced fat milk, yogurt and cheese. The Canadian Food Guide suggests 2-4 servings per day depending on age.  At the same time other health professionals are saying that milk is unhealthy. So how does this affect you?

Government guidelines are based on the idea that cow’s milk contains a lot of calcium so we should consume it to strengthen bones in growing children and reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fractures as we get older. Unfortunately, data from the Nurses’ Health Study has shown that there may actually be an increased risk of not only fractures but some cancers and obesity. Cow’s milk may contain lots of calcium, but it is made for growing baby cows and is difficult for humans to absorb. Human babies should not consume dairy until at least 1 to 2 years of age. After this age, you can introduce dairy if you choose, but it is not something they need to be healthy and should not make up the majority of their calories.

The Australian dietary guidelines also say that there is an association between milk consumption and decreased risk of heart disease and some cancers. But research also shows that milk consumption is associated with an increased risk of prostate and possibly ovarian cancer.

And then there is the issue with low fat vs high fat. People have long believed that the consumption of fat is unhealthy for you. This was flawed research, which has since been proven false. In fact, eating or drinking low fat products (including milk) can actually lead to weight gain as it does not fill you up so you then consume more calories. It also contains more sugar in the form of lactose, and as we all now know, it is sugar, not fat, that leads to weight gain. There is a lot of research out these days about fats (including saturated) being healthy while sugar is the culprit for many health issues.  Please check out this post to read more on the Truth About Fats.

It is estimated that 50-60% of people have an allergy or intolerance to dairy, most of whichindigestion2 is undiagnosed. This can manifest as many symptoms including seasonal or other food allergies, eczema, constipation, acne, and irritable bowel syndrome. If you want to know if you have an issue with dairy, take a break for 2-3 weeks and see how you feel. If symptoms return when you eat it again, you have your answer!

And finally we also need to question government dietary guidelines. In 1992, the Canadian government tried to decrease the recommended servings of dairy and meat in their food guide based on research at the time. Due to complaints from the Canadian Meat Council and Dairy Bureau of Canada, the serving suggestions were increased. Are food guides really for our health, or the pocket book of business?

Supplementation of calcium is not recommended as this may increase the risk of kidney stones and does not take into consideration the other nutrients such as Vitamin D and K2 needed for calcium absorption. Eating whole foods rich in calcium is best for bone health and can actually help prevent kidney stones. The best way to get your daily calcium is by having a diet rich in nuts, seeds, broccoli, dark leafy greens and small fish (with bones).


Don’t get me wrong, dairy is delicious! But it seems that it isn’t as healthy for us as we once thought. If you have any questions about diary, talk to your local naturopath. If you are looking to avoid osteoporosis and fractures, the best thing to do is weight-bearing exercise (you knew I was going to say that!).

How Much Salt do we Need?


Salt or sodium is a naturally occurring substance that our bodies need to function.  We need it to:

  • Maintain the right balance of fluids in our bodies
  • Transmit nerve impulses
  • Contract and relax our muscles

Our kidneys naturally balance the amount of sodium stored in our bodies for optimal health. When your body sodium is low, your kidneys hold on to the sodium. When your body sodium is high, your kidneys excrete the excess in your urine.  But when there is too much sodium the kidneys increase blood pressure to try to excrete more of it. This increase in blood pressure over time can lead to stroke, coronary heart disease and heart failure.

The average Australian intake of salt is about 10g or 4000mg sodium per day. The suggested intake for optimal health is 4g of salt or 1600mg of sodium.  So Australians are consuming a lot more salt than they should be which is setting them up for future (or current) health problems.  The good news is that you lose sodium when you sweat, so when you exercise you may need to consume a bit more than this.  Otherwise, it needs to stay down!

Once your blood pressure has increased due to a high salt intake, it may not go down with reduced intake so it is important to decrease your salt intake before you have high blood pressure to prevent any damage to your body.

You may be surprised at how much sodium is in many commonly consumed foods.  Here are a few examples:

Masterfoods BBq sauce = 15ml serve (1 tablespoon) = 164mg sodium

Masterfoods tomato sauce = 15ml serve (1 tablespoon) = 127mg sodium

100g of beef sausage (about 1 sausage)= 652mg sodium

6 inch meatball sub from Subway = 695mg sodium

1 cup of Nutrigrain cereal = 144mg sodium

Masterfoods beef stroganoff sauce = 529mg sodium per serve

Lean Cuisine Chicken Chickpea Curry w Brown Rice and Quinoa = 763mg sodium

Gatorade 591ml bottle = 250mg sodium


So, if you have 1 cup of Nutrigrain cereal (but most people probably have a larger serving), a sausage with sauce at Bunnings or your friend’s BBQ and then a Lean Cuisine for dinner, you are at your limit and you can’t have the hot chips, chips and dip, cheese or salted nuts for a snack.  Most of these processed foods are also high in sugar.  Read about what sugar is doing to your body and other reasons why you should watch these foods in my blog article about sugar.

Pre-packaged and processed foods as well as restaurant foods are where most people are getting their salt from in their diet.  Some of them may even look healthy with ‘heart ticks’ or stars on them, but make sure you read the label for yourself before assuming anything in a package is nutritious, because it usually isn’t.


Even though you may not have high blood pressure now, it is important to implement healthy lifestyle habits before major health issues creep up.  Try to cut down on your intake of processed foods, especially meats, and decrease your take-away and restaurant food.  And for those in Australia, you don’t have to stop at every sausage sizzle you see!  I know they are everywhere, but that doesn’t make them good for you.

Enjoy your salt as a light sprinkle you add yourself and your kidneys will thank you.