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.



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.

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!).

Having Trouble Sleeping?


As we are sleeping our bodies have many important jobs to do.  This is the optimum time for growth and rejuvenation of the immune, nervous, skeletal and muscular systems.  This is when muscle growth, tissue repair and protein synthesis occur.  Our bodies are healing, as this is the best time for white blood cell and antioxidant functioning.  We also secrete hormones such as growth hormone and melatonin and clear the build up of substances like adenosine.  Sleeping is also the key time for brain development and memory processing.

Although we still don’t know everything our bodies do while we are sleeping, we do know what happens when we don’t get enough sleep.  Lack of sleep can more than double the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.  It can also be a risk factor for weight gain, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.  Sleep difficulties are associated with depression, alcoholism and bipolar disorder.  Sleep deprivation affects judgment, mood, ability to learn and retain information and increases the risk of accidents and injury.  When sleep deprived our white blood cell count decreases.  In a study, animals deprived entirely of sleep lost all immune function and died within weeks.  Sleep problems have even been associated to digestive problems such as inflammatory bowel and Crohn’s disease.

So what is enough sleep? One study found that people who sleep six to seven hours each night live the longest.  But this is only if people wake naturally instead of with an alarm clock.  It is generally accepted that you have had enough sleep if you have no periods of tiredness through the day.


If you suffer from sleep problems the first thing to start with is to look at your sleep hygiene.

  • Keep the TV, computer, tablet, phone, anything with a bright screen out of the bedroom.  Artificial light can shift your circadian rhythm.
  • Sleep in complete darkness.  Even a little light can stop the creation of sleep hormones such as melatonin.
  • Avoid stimulants such as coffee, tea or energy drinks after noon.  Some people can take as long as 18 hours to clear caffeine from their system so should not drink it at all.  Check out my blog article on caffeine for more information about its effects.
  • Try using an alarm clock with sleep stage monitoring.  This monitors what stage of sleep you are in so you are woken during a lighter sleep rather then a deep sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol.  Although this will initially aid going to sleep it gives a worse quality sleep and you can wake in the night.
  • Most sources say a routine is very important.  Counter to this is the theory that you should only go to bed when you are tired.  Try both and see what works best for you.
  • And last but certainly not least, exercise and diet. Regular exercise and a healthy diet will improve your sleep along with most other ailments.  Check out my blog article about exercise to learn more about how much we need.

If you are still having problems with your sleep some supplements may be helpful in the short term, but talk to your naturopath before trying anything.  Happy sleeping!



Ferrie JE, Shipley MJ, Cappuccio FP, Brunner E, et al. A prospective study of change in sleep duration: associations with mortality in the Whitehall II cohort. Sleep 30 (12): 1659–66.

Harvard Medical School: Healthy Sleep‐of‐sleep/why‐do‐ we‐sleep

Thase M. Depression and sleep: pathophysiology and treatment. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience 8 (2): 217–226.

Rowland R. “Experts challenge study linking sleep, life span”. CNN.

What’s the deal with fibre?


Fibre is a carbohydrate that is neither digested nor absorbed in the small intestine. High fibre diets are associated with lower cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer as well as improved cholesterol, irritable bowel disease, uptake of calcium, Mg and iron, and lower body weight. Fibre also helps us to feel full and improves our immune function. It reduces the prevalence and duration of infectious diarrhea and antibiotic use in children. Adequate fibre intake is also needed to prevent constipation.

I often write about the importance of our gut bacteria, or microbiome, and how dysbiosis of these bacteria is associated with many different health problems including weight gain, inflammation and depression. Fibre is what these bacteria need to grow. But different bacteria like to eat different types of fibre so to have a diverse microbiome it is important to eat a variety of high fibre foods. If these good bacteria don’t have enough food in the form of fibre, they may turn to eating the mucous lining of the gut causing chronic inflammation.

Increasing your fibre intake will have an effect on your gut bacteria within a few weeks, but fibre needs to be eaten every day. Bacteria don’t like being starved for even a day. And if you stop eating enough fibre, the gut bacteria will decrease again.

Studies show that gut bacteria decrease over generations of low fibre diets. So if you, your children, and your grandchildren all don’t eat enough fibre, you can actually wipe out entire species of bacteria. This leads to an increased risk for all the diseases associated with gut dysbiosis that I have previously discussed. And even if your great-grandchildren eat a super healthy diet with lots of fibre, they cannot increase the number of bacteria of a species that isn’t there to start with.


Some fibre foods that are great for specific health promoting bacteria are leeks, asparagus, chicory, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onions, wheat, oats, and soybeans. Other foods that are high in fibre include whole grains, legumes, fresh fruit, vegetables, and dried fruits.

Most people consume about 15g of fibre per day, but this is not enough to promote health. Fibre intake should be at least 25g/day.  This really isn’t hard to do. If you have muesli with almonds, sunflower seeds, sultanas and dried apple for breakfast, an apple for morning tea, a sandwich with 2 slices of wholegrain bread for lunch, a pear for a snack, and include brown rice and some carrots for dinner you will have consumed 26g of fibre.  Too easy!

When looking to increase the fibre in your diet, try to avoid white foods. Have sweet potato instead of white potato, brown rice instead of white (it tastes better anyway) and wholegrain bread instead of white bread. Increase your fibre intake slowly until you are getting at least 25g per day.

Start increasing your fibre intake today! Your gut bacteria will thank you (and so will future generations).

Check out my Healthy Heathcote 90-Day Challenge video about fibre here:

10% Human

Sailor kid looking ahead

I just can’t stop talking about the importance of healthy gut bacteria.  I borrowed the title for this article from a book I have been reading by Alanna Collen.  In it she discusses the importance of gut bacteria, also known as your microbiome.  The title refers to the percentage of our bodies that are actually human cells.  Of all the cells we walk around with each day, only 10% by number are actually our skin, blood, organs, tissues, etc.  The rest are mostly bacteria with some fungi and viruses. Slowly science is realizing just how important all these bugs in and on our bodies really are.  In order for us to evolve, we have had to hire out some of our essential functions.  These bacteria help break down plant fibers, fight off bad bacteria, create vitamin B12 and K and shape the intestinal wall just to name a few.  And in return we give them a nice place to live with lots of food.  But what happens when this symbiotic relationship gets disrupted?

Most people think their gut is only for digesting food, but in fact the digestive tract is the central area for the nervous, hormonal and immune systems.   This means that an imbalance in this area can have far reaching, and seemingly unrelated, effects throughout the body.

Improper or lacking gut bacteria (dysbiosis) are associated with digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, irritable bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and food intolerances.  Any of these problems can cause debilitating symptoms.  Several autoimmune diseases are also associated with dysbiosis.  These include rheumatoid arthritis, MS, Type I diabetes and lupus.  Dollarphotoclub_64564172.jpg

Our digestive tract and our little bacterial friends play a role in regulating our mood.  One of the functions of gut bacteria is to make neurotransmitters such as GABA.  GABA is the calming chemical in the brain that decreases anxiety and helps relieve anxious depression.  Therefore a lack of gut bacteria can lead to anxiety and depression.  Gut bacteria are also involved in other mental health disorders.  A recent study found that supplementing a baby with probiotics (supplement form of good gut bacteria) decreased the incidence of ADHD when these children became teenagers.

Dysbiosis is also associated with autism, allergies, eczema, asthma, some cancers and obesity. And these are just the health problems we know of so far.  Research is only just beginning to understand the importance of the bugs that live in our digestive tract.  Scientists keep looking for a genetic cause for diseases because we have the technology to change some genes, at least for the coming generation.  But most of these disorders didn’t exist 100 years ago.  Human genetics have not changed that fast.  So that means something must have changed in our environment and lifestyles.



How to Keep Your Microbiome Happy

There are some things that disrupt our microbiome that we don’t have much control over. Caesarean sections save baby’s lives but this means that they don’t get exposed to mother’s bacteria in the vaginal canal at birth. Formula has also saved lives but formula does not expose the baby to mom’s healthy bacteria. When antibiotics are used correctly they save many lives but these can wipe out a lifetime of healthy gut bacteria leaving a very upset micro biome.  But there are many things you can do yourself to keep your little bacteria friends happy.

Eat fibre. Avoid sugar. Eat lots of fruit and veggies (with the skin on), legumes and whole grains such as brown rice and wholemeal bread. This provides great food for your microbiome as well as making sure everything keeps moving. Gut bacteria thrive on a variety of fibre so try not to eat the same things every day.  Bacteria don’t like it when stool sticks around too long so make sure you eat fibre every day. Sugar only helps to feed the bad bacteria so try to limit your intake.  Read here for more information on the effects of sugar on your body.

Don’t eat preservatives. Preservatives are designed to kill and stop the growth of bacteria, and that is just what they keep on doing inside your body. These pesky chemicals have only been in our diet for less than a century and they are wreaking havoc on our gut bacteria. Avoid products with preservatives listed. ‘Flavouring’ and ‘colouring’ are full of preservatives, which might not be listed separately on the label so avoid any products with these.   Product labels only have to show ingredients that are higher than 10 parts per million, but many preservatives are very effective at even this low level. Keep in mind that food manufacturers are out to make money so they may lie on their labels (even if it is illegal). So if there is a product that doesn’t go off within a few days, don’t eat it!


Buy organic from the dirty list. Pesticides are also designed to kill. 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. The ‘dirty’ foods with the highest pesticide residues in Australia are, in order, apples, wheat, strawberries, pears, grapes, lettuce, nectarines, peaches, and tomatoes. To save money, buy these foods organic and buy foods from the ‘clean’ list conventional. The ‘clean’ foods are onions, sweet corn, pineapple, asparagus, sweet peas, mango, eggplant, kiwi and cabbage.  Here is a  link to the full American list for 2016.  This list is updated every year.

If you are worried about the state of your gut bacteria or already have symptoms of an imbalance, taking a probiotic supplement may help, but you should seek advice from your local naturopath to make sure you get a good quality one.

The bacteria in your gut are very important to your health and longevity. Be nice to them and they will be nice to you.

Check out my Healthy Heathcote 90-Day Challenge video about the importance of gut bacteria: