Blog

Dec 13
Winter, the time of warming spices

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With the nights drawing in – and temperatures dropping – it's not surprising that our thoughts at this time of year turn to warming and comforting treats.  Spices have long been treasured for their ability to pep up our staple fare not to mention their preserving and medicinal qualities. 

Many of the winter treats we still enjoy today – fruit cakes, Christmas puddings, mince pies and mulled wine – date back to medieval times, when spices were a luxury.  A long anticipated treat.

These days with travel having become so much easier – and the world much smaller – spices have become an integral part of our everyday lives.  However, they offer much more than simply being an ingredient of our favourite Indian or Chinese foods.  They also have an important medicinal aspect which has long been recognised by many traditional forms of medicine, including Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine. 

There are so many different spices we could talk about today but let's focus on two which have been the subject of much research.  And, in the process, confirmed their traditional uses (!).  Tumeric and cayenne pepper. 

Tumeric is a member of the ginger family, with the rhizome – or root – being used to provide the spice we're so familiar with.  It's been used in India for thousands of years and gives curry its distinctive yellow colour as well as a warm bitter taste.

The main active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin which is only present in relatively small quantities, about 3% by weight.  Added to this it's poorly absorbed from the gut into the bloodstream, meaning that large amounts of tumeric would have to be eaten to obtain any positive effects.  Interestingly, the rate of absorption can be improved by taking black pepper (bioperine) alongside and many turmeric supplements now include it for this reason.  However, even taking this into account, the simplest way of taking turmeric is as a concentrated extract.

Curcumin contains a huge range of vitamins and minerals.  These include Vitamins C and B6, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, potassium and manganese; as well as various phytonutrients.  It's a powerful antioxidant, thanks to the high levels of Vitamin C and is also anti inflammatory.  With these two key attributes it's not surprising that curcumin has been found to be useful for many chronic and degenerative conditions including Arthritis, Heart Disease, Alzheimers and Depression.

More generally, it's been found to support the immune system, digestion and liver function.  It helps reduce gas and bloating, detoxing – and so congestion – as well as skin conditions such as Eczema, Psoriasis and Acne.

Many people have come across curcumin in weight loss supplements, where it helps to boost the metabolic rate, so increasing the rate weight is lost – and kept off.  It also plays a part in lipid – fat – metabolism and can also help lower cholesterol. 

Finally, recent research has focussed on its ability to inhibit the growth of cancer cells particularly those in the breast, colon, prostate and lung.

Cayenne Pepper – better known as the chilli pepper – is a member of the pepper family which, in turn, is part of the deadly nightshade family and so is closely related to the potato, tomato and aubergine.  It comes from South America and has been used for thousands of years to add heat to food as well as for its medicinal properties.

The main active ingredient in cayenne pepper is capsaicin, with the amount present varying between different members of this family.  The popularity of chillies has led to the development of the scoville scale which measures the amount of capsaicin present and has resulted in great competition between growers to produce the hottest pepper each year.  To give an idea of how hot they really are, here are the so called "scoville units" for a selection of peppers:

Bell peppers, nil, so contain no capsaicin.

Cayenne pepper, 30,000 to 50,000 units.

Scotch bonnets, 200,000 to 350,000 units.

Caroline Reaper, 1.6M + and has held the Guinness Book of Records since 2013 although it may now be replaced by "Pepper X" (!).

Anyway before we digress too far, like curcumin, capsaicin contains a huge range of vitamins and minerals.  These include Vitamins A, B, C, E and K as well as manganese, magnesium, iron and potassium. 

High levels of Vitamins C and E make it a powerful antioxidant and immune system support

Capsaicin is particularly well known for helping support the heart and blood circulation; due to it being a good source of Vitamin K and potassium, as well as a stimulant.  The many conditions it's been traditionally used for include palpitations, irregular heartbeat, congestive heart failure, cholesterol and as a blood pressure normaliser – whether high or low.

It's also well known as an effective anti inflammatory and painkiller for many conditions.  These include Migraines, Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, lower back pain and nerve pain, such as that from Shingles.

Not surprisingly, it also acts as a decongestant, helping to clear mucus and catarrh.

Capsaicin helps to stimulate digestion and improve the absorption of nutrients from food.  Interestingly, it's also been found to reduce the amount of insulin needed to remove sugars from the blood stream after a meal and so helps reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes.

Like curcumin, capsaicin has also been found to aid weight loss.  However, this is due to it producing heat as it's broken down which, in turn, helps speed weigh loss.  It has also been found to help slow – and destroy – cancer cells, particularly those in the prostate.

Having said this, a little caution is needed.  Excessive amounts of cayenne pepper can cause stomach problems due to the heat produced as it's digested.  This can destroy the so called "good bacteria" found in the stomach, as well as reducing the secretion of mucus which protects its lining.  So, while it can be safely eaten in normal amounts as a spice, it should only be taken in larger amounts as a supplement otherwise digestive problems may occur.

A story which perfectly illustrates how you can have too much of a good thing comes courtesy of one of our family members, who shall remain nameless (!).  Having done some of his own research about lowering blood pressure, he read that cayenne pepper could be taken each morning in water. 

He quite happily took the recommended naturopathic dose – one level teaspoon in a little warm water each morning – for a few days and then decided to order supplies in bulk to take on holiday.  Unfortunately, he didn't realise he'd ordered a super strength product. 

Not surprisingly, the difference became obvious as soon as he tried to swallow it, but things only got worse later on in the day…  His comment was that it was like a DIY Dyno rod – and we'll leave the rest to your imagination!

As a sequel to this story his friend also decided to take cayenne pepper – and belonging to the "more is better" school – increased the amount to one tablespoon each morning with similar results…  You have been warned.

As always, the choice is yours.

 

Dec 06
The art of forgiveness

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A couple of weeks ago we talked about the mysteries of time and sowed a radical little seed.  Forgiveness.  Having left it there to grow for a while, we’re now returning to talk about it a little more.  Give a different perspective.

Before we go any further, we must also say that we’re not talking about forgiveness in the religious sense you were probably taught at school.  The stories about forgiving your enemy.  Turning the other cheek.  Etc.  Etc.

At this point we’d usually dig out the dictionary to help us.  See if the particular word we’re focussing on really means what we think it does.  However, on this occasion, the dictionary really isn’t very helpful at all:

“Forgiveness, the act of forgiving; the giving of a pardon; the giving up of a resentment or claim.”

So let’s look at forgiveness from a different perspective.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, but we don’t all think the same way.  Were brought up the same way.  Relate to those around us in the same way.  Have the same set of rules to live life by.  In other words, we each live our lives – and experience them – differently.

As a friend of Elaine’s so eloquently put it years ago, “You may be playing cricket, but everyone else is playing rounders.  The rules are completely different.”

Added to this much of our lives is lived on autopilot, so we’re not even aware of many of the things we do each day.  We just do them without thinking.  “That’s the way things are done.”  “That’s the way things are.”

This particularly applies to beliefs, habits and routines dating back to childhood, which are taken as being “the norm” and still control the way we live as adults.  The crucial thing to remember is that in accepting them we’ve never stopped to question whether they really are true or work for us.

Sadly, here in the West, any sort of introspection – or personal development – is seen as a rather strange fringe activity.  In fact, reading this probably makes you something of an oddball (!).  Anyway, before we digress any further, the point we’re trying to make is that the majority of people have never ever questioned what goes on in their heads.  Let alone why they behave like they do.

So what has this to do with forgiveness?  Well, more than you would think. 

As you can now see, there are so many different variables at work – some obvious, some not – that we can NEVER know exactly why someone behaved as they did.  Or were even aware of what they were doing.  Or the effect it would have on the other person.  And, if you asked them to explain why they did what they did, they probably couldn’t.

Even more sadly, all too often, those affected in one generation become the perpetrators in the next generation.  The hurt – or abused – child becomes the cruel – or abusing – adult.  The “norm” they were exposed to in their childhood is inflicted on their children and those around them.  Without any introspection – or personal development – how could it be any different?

This isn’t to excuse what may have happened but to understand how it could have.

By looking at whatever happened from both sides, it quickly becomes clear that there’s damage on both sides.  And it will continue until the chain is broken.  True forgiveness allows the hurt to be left in the past where it belongs and for ALL those affected to get on with their lives.

If this sounds like too tall an order, there’s an ancient blessing that helps break the chain and release the hurt:

“I love you, I forgive you, I’m sorry, thank you.”

You don’t have to say it out loud.  Or to those concerned.  Just say it to yourself every time those memories come up or the person concerned pops into your head.

It’s incredibly powerful and helps clear all the hurt – and other rubbish – you’ve been carrying around with you.

Here’s one final thought on this before we go. 

All too often we hear clients saying that they can’t forgive the person(s) involved until they apologise.  Sadly, if this is the case, you’re going to have a very long wait.  (And, in the unlikely event they did, it probably wouldn’t be enough anyway.) 

All you’re doing is perpetuating the hurt – and their control over you and your life.  Continuing to let the past rule your present.

Or, put another way:

“It’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

As always, the choice is yours.

 


Nov 29
Is soy really a healthy source of protein and good for you?

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Over recent years soy has been marketed as the healthy alternative to many meat and dairy products, appearing in an ever increasing range of products found on supermarket shelves.  Much has been made of the important part it plays in the diets of those in the Far East, particularly Japan and China. 

The logic goes that as Asian people traditionally have lower rates of heart disease, cancer and dementia AND soy is an important part of their diet; then it should be included in our diets for its health enhancing properties.  (And, coincidentally, this is the reason clients always refer to when we ask them why they've made this change.) 

While it's undoubtedly true that soy has been consumed in the Far East for centuries, one crucial fact is overlooked.  Soy is ONLY eaten after it's been fermented AND NOT in an unfermented state.

Why is this? 

For the simple reason that soy beans contain large amounts of anti nutrients, in other words, toxins.  Unlike other toxins found in the food we eat, these aren't destroyed or deactivated by cooking.  This means that they pass into the digestive system intact, causing problems both here and elsewhere in the body.  They include:

Enzyme inhibitors, which block the enzymes needed to digest proteins.

Phytic acid, which blocks the absorption of minerals such as calcium, magnesium copper, iron and zinc.

Haemagglutinin, a substance that promotes blood clotting, causing red blood cells to clump together.

Nitrites, powerful carcinogens which form when the beans are dried. 

Goitrogens, which interfere with the function of the thyroid gland and production of thyroxine.

Phyto oestrogens, which mimic oestrogen and interfere with the function of the reproductive system in both women and men; although they have a greater impact on women. 

Ironically, many women include soy based milk and yoghurts in their diet thinking it will help with hormonal problems; particularly those around menopause.  Instead, sadly, it causes more hormonal disruption while bringing with it many other health problems as well.

As an aside, one of the other often quoted reasons for eating soy is that it's low in saturated fat and cholesterol and so helps reduce the risk of heart disease.  However, this research has been disputed for a long time in America, with the FDA – Food and Drugs Administration – currently undertaking an investigation into it. 

In addition, the way in which soy is processed only exacerbates matters.  These include the use of high temperatures and pressures, acid baths and petroleum solvents to separate the oils and proteins to be used in different products.  Given all of this, it's not surprising that the end product is high in other toxins too, such as aluminium. 

And, as an aside, do you really want to eat a food processed in this way?  Hopefully not.

Just to make matters worse, soy was one of the first GMO crops, with the majority of that grown in America now being genetically modified.  Even where this isn't the case, soy has been found to be among the most highly pesticide contaminated foods on the market.

One other trap ready to catch the unaware is soy milk.  This is made from unfermented soy – and so has all the problems already mentioned above – which then, to make it more palatable, includes large amounts of sugar.  When taken together it provides a very poor alternative to milk. 

We know we've said it many times before, but milk isn't a natural part of ANY adult creature's diet or necessary in nutritional terms.  If you do still want your "fix", goat's and sheep's milk are the closest to human milk – and so the most digestible – while rice or almond milk can easily be made at home.

So should soy be avoided completely?

Yes, UNLESS it's in a traditional fermented form.  In other words as tempeh, miso, and natto. 

Curdling – the method used to produce tofu, which starts with soy milk – removes some of the toxins, but these remain in the curdling liquid around the tofu.  This means that it contains less toxins BUT these aren't completely eliminated.  For this reason the advice for tofu is the same as for unfermented products, to avoid it.

Sadly, yet again, soy provides another example of a half truth being used to mislead consumers about the supposed health enhancing properties of a product.  True, soy can be a part of a healthy diet BUT ONLY IF IT's BEEN FERMENTED.  This is why it's so important to do your own research rather than automatically accepting the marketing hype for any product.

As always the choice is yours.


Nov 22
The mysteries of time

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One topic that fascinates us – and has the ability to completely shatter many of our illusions about this world of ours – is time. 

How there is only now.  This present moment.  And the next.  And next.  Ad infinitum.

The past has gone.  But, when we were there, it was just another now.  Another moment in time.  (For some reason we haven't yet fathomed, many people find this a hard notion to get their heads around.)

The future has yet to come.  And, yes, you've guessed it when you get there it'll be another now.

Yet this doesn't mean that people can't live in the past. 

Many people do this, without realising what they're doing, by constantly going over and over what happened in the past.  Usually it's something traumatic that happened in their childhood.  However, by thinking about it now they're simply bringing all the hurt – the trauma – into the present.  Repeating it over and over again without being able to do anything to change it. 

Gradually it takes them over and becomes their identity.  And they get trapped in no man's land.  Not leaving the past where it belongs, in the past.  Nor living their life in the present which, after all, is the only place they can do anything about it.

Ironically, there is a very simple solution to this impasse, but one that seems to go against all logic.  And that's to take a very deep breath and forgive all those concerned.  Truly forgive them.  Which includes yourself as well. 

Now we know this is a radical thought and the little monster in your head will have plenty to say about it (!).  So that's why we're going to leave this idea with you – plant the seed if you will – and come back to it in a couple of weeks when your little monster has calmed down a bit.

We should also mention another way that people can get stuck in the past.  And that's when they become fixated on things somehow being better in the past.  In other words they've got their rose tinted spectacles on (!). 

It could be said that this isn't nearly so damaging but, again, it takes them away from the here and now.  Really it's more a case of perspective, looking at things in their entirety rather than choosing to focus on one aspect of the past.

And then there are people who live in the future.

About what might happen, however unlikely.  Worries, anxieties, stress. 

Again it gradually takes over their lives.  Becomes their identity. 

And again it takes them away from their lives and the only place they can do anything about it.  Now.

You'll be pleased to know that there is a simple solution to this problem.  It's not nearly as radical as forgiveness (!) and so doesn't need a blog post of its own to explain.  It's called perspective and goes like this:

First, let your attention focus on the imagined horror in all its glory.  The worst possible scenario.  Really feel what it would feel like.  AH!!! 

You will probably need to take a deep calming breath at this stage…

Then go to the other extreme.  Focus on the best possible outcome.  How good it feels.  What a relief.  PHEW!!!

Finally, go somewhere in the middle.  The most likely scenario / outcome.  How, it's fine.  Perhaps even a better outcome than you could have imagined.

Not only have you given yourself some much needed perspective but you'll feel calmer and more in control.  And, most importantly, you're back in the present.  The only place you can do anything about it.

And here's the important bit.  Every time you find yourself starting to drift back to that particular horror, pull your attention back to the most likely outcome.  Notice what a relief it feels. 

It really is that simple, it's just down to practise.  Like learning to ride a bike.  After all you've practised living in the future for years, it's just a case of practising to live in the present. 

And remember what happened when you fell off your bike?  You just got back on again and did it again.  And again.  And again.  Gradually it got easier until you didn't have to think about doing it at all.  Life really is that simple IF you let it be.

These two aspects of time – whether stuck in the past or projecting forward to the future – are often referred to as psychological time.  It's when the monster in our heads is in control and we're so distracted that we're no longer truly living our lives in the present.  Sadly, this is where many people live – or waste – their precious lives.

Before we finish for today we'd just like to mention one other aspect of time that so easily throws us off track.  And is probably something you've probably never considered.  Clock time.

There can be little doubt that clock time dominates our waking lives.  From first thing in the morning, to last thing at night, it's our constant companion.  While we like to think it makes us more efficient and focused – on schedule – it has exactly the opposite effect; constantly interrupting and distracting us.  Keeping us busy – oh yes, we're very busy – but, as we all know, this isn't the same as being productive (!).

By contrast being in the present moment means that we're 100% focussed on whatever we're doing right now.  Time has no hold over us and seems to stand still.  No longer are we distracted by the past or future, but 100% engaged in living our lives in the way we choose.  Not surprisingly, it's when we're at our most creative, efficient and effective. 

And, yes, as we write this we can hear you muttering about how necessary clock time is to your life.  How it's the only way you get things done.  And, yes, it can play a useful part in life BUT ONLY FOR PRACTICAL AND USEFUL PURPOSES.  For appointments, a deadline for a project, a way of connecting to the world around you.  Using it as your servant, not master. 

By dipping in and out of clock time, you can focus 100% on whatever it is you're doing right now.  And, almost magically, you're suddenly calm, relaxed and productive.  It really is that simple. 

While it may feel quite scary to start with, clear away clocks from the places you spend most time in.  And this includes putting those on your phone or computer on hidden mode.  Oh, and leave your watch at home. 

As you start to consciously spend more of your time fully engaged with whatever it is you're doing – then switching back to clock time when necessary – you'll find the temptation to constantly check the clock time lessens. 

Even better, you'll start to develop a much better sense of what the clock time is.  Find yourself coming out of whatever it is you're doing at just the right moment.  Easily switching from the auto pilot of clock time to being fully in control and present.

And, finally, one last tip we've found incredibly useful for projects.  It's to change your focus from the deadline date, to the tasks you need to do to reach it.  A "to do" list if you will.  Again, this moves your focus from clock time to the present.  It's also much more satisfying to cross the various tasks off the list as you do them, rather than focusing on completing x by y time.  You'll have the feeling of making progress and be able to see the desired end result quickly coming closer and closer.

We know this is a completely different way of looking at life, that it can be rather perplexing to start with.  But, trust us, it makes life much simpler and more productive.  Rather than being busy, busy, busy and driven by external forces, you'll feel calm and in control.

As always, the choice is yours.


Nov 15
The magic of magnesium

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A couple of weeks ago we looked at the difference between minerals and vitamins.  How important they BOTH are to good health and the complex web of relationships between them. 

As promised this week we’re focussing on one mineral in particular, magnesium, which has been the subject of much research in recent years.  Interestingly, this has highlighted the large number of people who are deficient in this mineral AND the part this then plays in many health problems.  It has also emphasised, once again, the part played by poor ongoing lifestyle choices.  And they’re the ones we mention regularly – lack of fresh fruit and vegetables, dehydration, stress, lack of exercise and smoking.

Anyway, before we go any further, here’s a quick reminder about magnesium.  Like all minerals, it’s an inorganic substance found in soil and water.  Needed by the body in – relatively – large amounts it’s classified as a “macro mineral.”

It’s estimated that 50 to 60% of all the magnesium found in the body is locked up in the bones and teeth.  Another 10% is found in the heart muscles – more about this later – with about 1% in the blood itself.  The remainder is found in the cells – where it’s needed for a huge number of different biochemical processes – particularly those in the muscles, nerves and liver.

Foods rich in magnesium include dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish, beans, whole grains, avocados, watery fruits and berries, yogurt, bananas, dried fruit and dark chocolate.  Sea salt or, even better, himalayan crystal salt also contain good amounts of magnesium; along with many other trace minerals such as potassium and zinc.

Signs of low magnesium levels include pains in the neck and back, muscle weakness / spasms, anxiety, fatigue, migraines, loss of appetite, vomiting, nausea, insomnia, abnormal heart rhythms, diarrhoea and muscle twitches.

It should also be mentioned that stress quickly depletes magnesium levels.  This is one of the many reasons we crave chocolate when stressed, as magnesium levels have become low and chocolate is high in magnesium. 

However, before you go and raid the nearest sweet shop (!), we should emphasise that the chocolate needs to be good quality and at least 60% cocoa solids.  If not, the benefits are vastly outweighed by the high sugar content, which will send your blood sugar levels rocketing (!) leaving you feeling jittery and wired.  You have been warned!

To date, magnesium has been identified as playing a part in more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body.  These include helping to maintain normal nerve and muscle function, a healthy immune system, steady heart beat and strong bones.  It also plays a part in detoxification, the regulation of body temperature and blood glucose levels, as well as in the production of energy and protein. 

If we were to focus on a couple of things that magnesium helps with – and we talk to clients most often about – the first would have to be muscle cramps, particularly in the calves.  These tend to occur at night and / or in the summer, usually when the person has exercised hard or is dehydrated – or both (!) – and can be excruciating.

Why is this?  Quite simply because magnesium is a nerve and muscle relaxant.  With it being burnt up during exercise – and lost in sweat – it’s easy to see how people can become deficient if they’ve exercised hard, or failed to keep hydrated, particularly during hot weather.

However, the calf muscles aren’t the only ones affected by low levels of magnesium.  The heart is the hardest working muscle in the body, which is the reason why magnesium is found in such large quantities there.  It’s also why low levels of magnesium are linked to many heart / blood related problems including irregular heart rhythm, angina, heart attacks and high blood pressure.

Alongside this magnesium is also found in the blood along with many other minerals including sodium, potassium and chloride.  Here it helps to regulate acidity and how efficiently oxygen is absorbed into the blood before being circulated around the body.

Looking at the muscular system generally, magnesium deficiency also plays a part in muscle cramps, twitches, seizures and epilepsy. 

Less obvious is the part it plays in asthma, with attacks triggered by the contraction of the bronchial muscles in the lungs. 

Low magnesium levels also play a part in constipation in two different ways.  Not only does magnesium help ensure the muscles in the walls of the digestive system contract strongly; but it also helps draw water into the gut itself, so helping ease the movement of the contents. 

Given this dual function, it’s not surprising that things tend to grind to a halt when magnesium levels are low.  It’s also explains why the traditional solution for constipation was a tablespoon of epsom salts in warm water – which are high in magnesium – at bed time.

The other thing we regularly talk to clients about is magnesium’s relationship with calcium.  As already mentioned magnesium helps relax muscles, while calcium constricts them.  Where levels are out of balance problems can occur – either by magnesium levels falling or calcium rising.

However, it’s usually the part magnesium plays in building strong bones that we focus on.  In recent years, calcium has become a popular supplement for women – particularly post menopause – to help strengthen the bones and protect against Osteoporosis. 

While it’s true that calcium is a major component of bones, it’s not the only mineral required to build them.  Sadly, without also taking magnesium – as well as other trace minerals such as silica, phosphorus, boron and zinc – the body can’t fully utilise it. 

Ironically, rather than helping to strengthen the bones, other minerals are released from the bones as the body tries to excrete – or deposit elsewhere – the calcium it can’t use.  Rather than being strengthened, the bones are actually weakened, while the excess calcium can then cause problems elsewhere in the body.  These include cataracts and calcium deposits in artery walls and large muscles. 

This is why it’s so important to take magnesium and calcium together, as well as the other trace minerals ALONG WITH Vitamins D3 and K2 which help control the formation of bone.  Where these are out of balance, many bone related problems can occur including bone deformities, Arthritis, Osteoporosis and Ricketts.

We should mention one other magnesium related issue which has only become apparent in recent years.  This is the link between low levels of magnesium and Diabetes.  Few people appreciate that magnesium also plays a part in the release of insulin, which is triggered by an increase in blood sugar levels. 

However, it doesn’t stop there.  Increased levels of sugar in the blood lead also increase its acidity as well as blood pressure.  With both of these being seen as major risk factors for heart attacks, it’s easy to see how Diabetes is now being linked to heart problems.  Matters are then made worse by magnesium being vital to maintain a healthy heart, as already mentioned.

Magnesium is often included in many multi vitamins and minerals, with 200 to 250mg per day being the suggested dose.  Side effects are rare, with its relaxing / laxative quality meaning that diarrhoea is usually the result.  However, if you have any concerns, please take advice before taking it.

Finally please remember that, like all minerals, magnesium comes in many different forms.  Some the body can absorb, many it can’t.  This means that it’s important to check the form the magnesium is in before buying a supplement.  Magnesium citrate, taurate and chloride are all forms the body can utilise.  Magnesium oxide, the form most often used in cheap supplements, it cannot. 

Alternatively, a very quick and easy way to take magnesium is as a tissue salt, magnesium phosphate.  It’s taken in a similar way to homeopathic remedies and can be dissolved in water and sipped, which is a great way to help alleviate muscle cramps and migraines.  Alternatively, epsom salts can be used as a short term emergency measure; either taken in warm water or added to a bath, where it’s absorbed through the skin.

As always, the choice is yours.


Nov 08
Today is not over yet

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We’ve all had those days. 

You know, the ones where you never quite seem to get going. 

Or, perhaps you did.  Then something knocked you off course and you never regained your momentum.

And it doesn’t matter whether you were at home or work.

Either way, before you know it, it’s suddenly mid afternoon and you find yourself thinking that the day’s practically over. 

It’s too late to get anything done, so you may as well just give up and have a cup of tea.  Or coffee.  With a biscuit or two.  Spend the evening at home in front of the television. 

But, today is not over yet.

So how about a new plan?

Doing those small things that make you smile.  Raise your spirits.  Get you moving in the right direction.

Before you know it, you’ll have achieved more than you could ever have believed possible and felt great in the process.

And, even better, you can apply these five little words – today is not over yet – to all those things that stop you making progress.

So you had two doughnuts, an expresso and more cigarettes than you’d care to admit to for breakfast.

Today is not over yet.

Missed your usual exercise class to go to the pub with mates.

Today is not over yet.

Succumbed to the lure of the “doom and gloom” soap opera / frittered away hours on your smartphone / facebook / latest game / (fill in the blank).

Today is not over yet.

Life is here to be lived and enjoyed. 

It’s never too late to do things differently and live in the way you truly want to, rather than continuing to do things you’ll later regret. 

Despite what the little monster in your head may say, there is no magic “right” time to do things differently or start moving in a new direction.  That time is always now.

Today is not over yet.

If you wondered where these words of wisdom came from, it’s Tony Robbins, the Life Coach and all round wise owl. 

And, before we go, here’s one other pearl of wisdom from him that perfectly follows on from these five little words:

“If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten.”

As always, the choice is yours.

 

Nov 01
Why minerals are just as important as vitamins for good health

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Over the years we've noticed that the autumn seems to be the time when everyone starts thinking about taking a supplement to boost their health – and, hopefully, avoid the worst of the winter bugs.  Usually this takes the form of a multi vitamin or, more commonly in recent years, a higher dose of a specific vitamin, particularly Vitamin C. 

For some reason people tend to overlook minerals – unless their multi vitamin happens to contain them too (!) – and how they're just as important in maintaining good health.  This may be due to research – and press coverage – in recent years focusing more on vitamins than minerals.  Or, perhaps, no single mineral has caught the public's attention in the way Vitamin C has.

Whatever the reason(s) this week we're going to focus on minerals and why they're just as important as vitamins for good health.

So what exactly is a mineral and how is it different to a vitamin?

Minerals are inorganic substances and come from soil and water.  While some minerals can be absorbed directly by the body from water, in most cases they're not in a form that the body can use.  This means that we rely on plants and animals to first take in – and then convert – minerals into a form we can then utilise.

As an aside, this is the reason we always recommend clients to only buy supplements that come from plant – or animal – sources.  While they are more expensive, they are in a form the body is designed to deal with. 

By contrast, lower grade supplements are the equivalent of eating the mineral direct from the soil or water; with the body simply not being able to fully digest and absorb it.  This is why research on many lower grade supplements have found that very little is absorbed and so have questioned their value.  However, in doing so, they have overlooked the most important point that they're not produced in a form the body can use.

Minerals have a simpler chemical structure than vitamins and are much more resilient.  This means they tolerate heat, chilling, light, storage, cooking and other food preparation processes – like cutting or shredding – much better than vitamins. 

As you'd expect, not all minerals are needed in the same amounts by the body.  However, this doesn't mean that those needed in smaller amounts are any less important. 

Those required in larger amounts – such as magnesium, phosphorus and calcium – are known as macro minerals.  While those needed in smaller amounts – such as iron, manganese, copper and iodine – are known as trace minerals. 

Vitamins, on the other hand, are organic substances.  This means they are only produced by living organisms, such as plants and animals.  They tend to have a much more complex chemical structure than minerals and are much less resilient. 

This is why we recommend buying food locally – and as soon as possible after it's harvested – and not keeping it for days in the fridge before eating it.  It's also the reason not to buy pre prepared fruit and vegetables, as the loss of vitamins increases dramatically once they've been cut or processed.  They may still look fresh and appetising but, sadly, contain very little in the way of nutrition.

Again, vitamins are needed in varying amounts by the body, but are classified in a different way to minerals.  Water soluble vitamins – such as Vitamins B and C – are dissolved in water and cannot be stored in the body.  This means that they need to be a regular part of the diet.  Fat soluble vitamins – such as Vitamins A, D, E and K – are stored in the body's fat cells, so the body can use these reserves if sufficient quantities of them haven't been consumed when they're needed.

What are minerals and vitamins used for?

As you'd expect, each mineral and vitamin has many different uses within the body.  Often it's said that minerals are more to do with body structure – such as bone, teeth and muscles – while vitamins are needed for body processes – including the release of energy from food, blood clotting and an efficient immune system.  However, in practice, it just isn't that simple.

To make things even more complicated, there's a complex web of relationships between different minerals and vitamins.  None can be utilised on their own, but require other vitamins and minerals to be present before they can be used. 

This is the reason it's important to do your research – and / or take advice – before considering taking single vitamins or minerals.  Simply taking a higher dose of one doesn't automatically mean that the body can utilise it.  Instead it often causes more problems, as the body then has to remove the excess it can't use from the system.  Ironically, this can often use up other minerals and vitamins in the process.

Magnesium is a good example of all these complexities, with it being needed by more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body.  These include maintaining a normal nerve and muscle function, healthy immune system, steady heart beat and strong bones.  It also helps regulate blood glucose levels and aids the production of energy and proteins. 

If we just take one of these functions, strong bones, magnesium is not the only mineral – or vitamin – required to build bones.  As you'd expect calcium is also needed, along with silica, phosphorus, zinc, copper and boron, to name but a few. 

Vitamin D helps controls the process and also maintains the balance between bone formation and reabsorption.  Alongside this is Vitamin K2, whose role in supporting Vitamin D and the rate of calcium absorption, has only recently been recognised. 

Interestingly, magnesium is one of the minerals which has been the subject of research and its deficiency is now being linked to many common – and increasing – health problems.  There's so much more that we could say on magnesium that we're going to take an in depth look at it in a couple of weeks' time.  You have been warned!

As always, the choice is yours.

Oct 25
Pay attention to what you're paying attention to

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Listening to clients – as well as those we encounter in our day to day lives – it’s all too easy to fall into the “doom, gloom and despondency” trap.  That the world is hard, negative and uncaring.  Life is a constant struggle and the best we can hope for is to get by.

However, as we’ve said many times before, this isn’t what life is about at all.  We live on a planet that’s amazing and beautiful.  Life is here for us to enjoy and, dare we say it, be happy (!). 

We have so much more to be thankful for than to be unhappy about.  The human spirit is truly awe inspiring and indomitable.

Yes, of course, there will always be the positive and negative.  Good and bad.  The joyful and tragic.  Life, after all, is all about contrasts.  How could we ever appreciate the good if we weren’t aware – or had actually experienced – the opposite?

What we often forget is that, every minute, we have the choice as to what to focus on.  The positive or negative. 

All the good things in the world – whether our own little world or the wider one – we have to be thankful for. 

Or the not so good ones. 

Whichever we choose then shapes our world and literally brings more of the same into our lives.

The question to ask yourself is how you want to spend your life. 

Worried and depressed? 

Or calm and content?

So, this week, here’s another one of our radical little ideas.  That you pay attention to what you’re paying attention to. 

Not only will you learn a lot about yourself – and others – in the process, but you can then consciously choose where to focus your precious energy and attention. 

As soon as you become aware that you’re focussed on “doom, gloom and despondency” you then have the choice of whether this really is what you want to be thinking about.  You can then make a conscious decision to move your focus on to all the good things in your life.  Perhaps even saying a silent “thank you” for them too.

We recently came across a lovely quote that sums this approach up perfectly but, as so often is the case, we haven’t been able to find it again.  It went along the lines of:

“If it isn’t positive, then I don’t pay attention to it.  It’s like water off a duck’s back.”

And, for those of you, who may feel that this approach is a bit of a cop out – a bit Pollyanna’ish – here’s something you may not have thought about. 

For a minute, just remember what it feels like to be in “doom, gloom and despondency” mode.  Now think of all that negativity you’re generating for yourself AND, more importantly, the people directly affected by whatever you’re thinking about. 

Then ask yourself if this is helping anyone? 

Does it make you feel good?

One thing is 100% certain.  It’s not helping you. 

But what about the other person / people? 

If they’re already having a tough time, will being on the receiving end of even more negativity be helping them? 

Again, the answer has to be an emphatic “no.”

Even worse, all this negativity is being sent by people who say they care and want to help.  And it doesn’t matter whether they’re a friend, family or stranger; the result is the same.  More fuel is being added to the negativity bonfire.

We’ll bet you’d never thought about it in those terms before.

Wouldn’t it be more helpful – for ALL concerned – to put all that energy into focussing on a positive outcome?  That all those affected are safe and will be fine in the long run.

Not only will you feel better focussing on a positive outcome for all concerned; but those on the receiving end will have a much needed dose of positive energy and thoughts.  While they may not know it consciously, unconsciously they’ll know that everyone is rooting for a positive outcome for them. 

As always the choice is yours.

Oct 18
Practice till it doens't feel like practice

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As clients and regular readers of this blog will know by now we like to keep things simple.  That’s why we always focus on the small things you can do at home to help yourself.  They’re all easy to do and quickly become part of your routine, so you don’t even have to think about them.  Even better, they all have lots of other benefits as well, giving you more “bang for your buck.”

Despite this, all too often, we hear clients saying that they find even the smallest change difficult to do. 

So why is this? 

In our experience we’d say that the answer is twofold and all down to mindset.  In other words the way you think about whatever it is you want to do.

As we said a few weeks ago, it’s very easy to trip yourself up before you’ve even started by saying – or thinking – to yourself that it’s going to be difficult.  Talk about setting yourself up to fail.  Not to mention making life much, much harder for yourself all round.

For some reason adults seem to make the assumption that doing anything new – or in a different way – is inherently difficult.  But, if you stop and think about it for a moment, this simply isn’t the case.  It’s just that you’re having to consciously think about what you’re doing, rather than doing it on autopilot.  And, because you’re aware of what you’re doing, it seems to require more effort.

Added to this, there’s the underlying feeling that this change isn’t completely voluntary.  It isn’t something you’d freely choose to do. 

While you might be able to recite off pat all the reasons why it’s a good thing to do – and how it would help you – deep down you’re just not 100% convinced by it.  Your heart AND mind aren’t quite in it.  And we all know what happens where you’re not 100% committed to something…

So what’s the answer?

Well, it’s all about changing how you approach it.  Rather than focussing on it being new and an effort, why not just say you’re practising doing it? 

Instantly, you’ve taken all the pressure off yourself.  It’s become a “work in progress” rather than something you have to do perfectly from the first time you do it.  And, if it does go pear shaped, then you’re more likely to pick yourself up and start again.  Which, ironically, is exactly what you did as a child every time you did something new. 

Gradually it became easier to do and then, one day, it just happened without any conscious thought.  Bingo!

It’s a bit like those music lessons you had at school.  Most of the time you hated doing scales and all those other exercises you were forced to do.  But, as you mastered them, you moved on to pieces with a recognisable tune.  Even better, occasionally it was one you liked. 

Each time you practised it became a little easier.  Slightly more tuneful.  And then, one day, you could play it without music.  At the drop of a hat.  With gusto. 

And then the whole process started all over again as you moved on to something else.  But, in the process, your confidence, skills and repertoire grew.

Well, that’s exactly what happens when you start doing something new as an adult. 

It all starts with deciding to do something new.  Accepting that you’ll mostly get it wrong in the beginning.  And being willing to keep practising until it becomes automatic.

Or, put another way, “Repetition is the master of skill.”

It really can be that simple, if you decide it will be…

As always, the choice is yours.

 

Oct 11
Sciatica - "I just don't know what to do with myself..."

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Having focussed on winter bugs for the last few weeks, you'll be pleased to hear that we're moving on to something completely different.  And without a single mention of mucus, catarrh or snot (!) either.  Sorry we just couldn't resist it…

If you've been unlucky enough to suffer from it, you'll know first hand just how painful and debilitating this problem is.  One client summed it up perfectly by saying that she couldn't sit, couldn't stand, could just about lay down – but couldn't then get up – and really didn't know what to do with herself. 

And, from personal experience, we'd say she'd got it right.  Although, having said that, we'd add that it's virtually impossible to get out of the car after a drive of more than a few minutes without resorting to a crowbar…

So what are we talking about this week? 

Sciatica, the inflammation of the Sciatic Nerve. 

To the uninitiated this doesn't sound like much of a problem.  But what if we told you it was the largest and longest spinal nerve in the body?  That it runs from the base of the Back on each side, down through the Buttocks and into the back of each Thigh; then all the way down each Leg to the Feet. 

Not only does it carry nerve signals to and from the muscles – and skin – of the Legs and Feet; but sensations too.  It controls the movement of the Legs and also plays an important part in our sense of balance, as well as how "strong" our Legs feel.  In other words do they feel strong and supportive; or weak, as though you're about to fall over?

What causes Sciatica?

Quite simply a Lower Back problem, which then presses on the Sciatic Nerve causing irritation and inflammation.  And, if you've ever suffered from Sciatica, you'll know that irritation sums things up very well (!). 

There are many different things which can trigger Sciatica.  The two most common are a Lower Back injury or one of the discs between the Vertebrae bulging, so that the Vertebrae presses on the nerve.  The latter is often referred to as a slipped disc, but this is not strictly true as the disc tends to bulge out – or herniate – rather than slipping out at the sides.

Other less common causes include degeneration of the lumbar discs, Arthritis and Spinal Stenosis.  Since these are all structural issues they often to lead to Sciatica on an ongoing basis.

And what about those irritating symptoms?

Symptoms vary hugely from person to person and tend to be on one side only.  They include:

Constant acute pain, making it very uncomfortable to sit down.

Numbness and tingling sensations down the Leg, which is often felt to be worse in one particular location, such as the side of the Thigh, calf muscle or Foot.  This location acts as a signpost to where the Sciatic Nerve is actually being irritated and so what the most likely cause may be.

A feeling of weakness in the Leg making it difficult to walk or stand.

There may also be Lower Back pain, which goes down into the Buttocks as well.

Sitting makes things worse, as does sneezing or coughing.  Interestingly, cooler damp weather often plays a part, hence us tending to see it more during the change from Summer to Autumn and Spring to Summer.

What can you do about it?

The conventional approach focuses on painkillers, anti inflammatories and physiotherapy.  While this can help in the short term, it's equally important that steps are taken to address the underlying cause and so prevent a reoccurrence in the future.

Not surprisingly, some hands on treatment to deal with the underlying cause is usually recommended, with Acupuncture and gentle manipulation both being very useful.  Homeopathic remedies can also help to provide some additional support alongside. 

As always, there are lots of things you can do at home to help.

While you may not feel like it, keeping active will make a huge difference.  Gentle walking and stretching really do help.  Avoid sitting but, if you have to, keep it for as short a time as possible.  If you want a rest then lay down on the floor or a firm bed, not forgetting to put a hot water bottle or heat pad under your lower Back.  And don't forget to keep your Knees bent – or put a cushion under them – to take the pressure off your lower Back.

There's also a gentle stretch that really helps.  Lay on your back with your Knees bent and gently hug one Knee to your Chest for a few seconds and then the other.  Make sure you gently lower each Foot to the floor and don't let it drop down, which jars your Back. 

If this feels ok, you can then hug both Knees to the Chest while rocking gently from side to side.  These simple stretches help stretch and release the muscles in the lower Back, so reducing the pressure on the Sciatic Nerve.  Doing this several times a day will make a real difference.

A soak in a warm – not too hot – bath with Epsom Salts can also help.  Not only is it soothing, but the warmth boosts the circulation, while the magnesium in the salts helps reduce muscle spasms and soreness. 

A hot water bottle – or heat pad – on the lower Back can also help release the area and so reduce pain and soreness.

Devil's Claw, a herbal tincture, is a natural anti inflammatory and also helps with pain relief.  It can be safely taken in both the short and long term.

Our old friend, ginger tea, can also help as it's both warming and soothing to muscles.  Don't forget to make it with fresh ginger to get the full benefits.

And, while we're on the subject of fluids (!), dehydration will only make things worse; particularly cramps and pain.  You may not feel like drinking water – or herb teas – but it's really important that you keep well hydrated.

Longer term, it's important that long periods of times aren't spent sitting – whether in the office, at home or in the car.  Sitting shortens muscles in the Back, so making a repeat of the Sciatica – and lower Back problems generally – more likely.  In addition, sitting – and sedentary lifestyles in general – are now being linked to many longer term health conditions.

Finally, it's also a good idea to make sure that your bed really does support your back and isn't too soft.  Similarly, that the chairs you use at home and at work have lumbar support to help your Back.

As always, it's the simple things you do each day that can really make a difference, not only now but in the future.

The choice is yours.


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