When it comes to managing migraines, it can be tempting to focus on avoiding just one trigger. We also have a tendency to pin all our hopes on that one thing which will keep us migraine free – such as a new medication or one single diet.
The reality is that reducing migraines is about finding the balance between avoiding a whole heap of triggers, while working on incorporating as many strategies as we can to manage migraines. And, the triggers and treatments are unique to each migraine sufferer.
In Dr Josh Turknett’s book, The Migraine Miracle, the analogy of balloons and weights are used to describe the balance we need to aim for to reduce migraines.
Imagine that you are in a basket, to which you can attach balloons to lift up into the air. When in the air, you have a “safe zone” to float about in – but if you elevate too high past your safe threshold, then you will come into migraine territory.
The balloons are your triggers. Some are big balloons, and some are smaller. You can attach a certain number of balloons and still stay in the safe zone. But add one balloon too many, and you will fly up past the threshold and – bam! You have a migraine.
You also have weights to attach to your basket to keep you within the safe zone. Yep – you guessed it - the weights are the strategies you use to manage your migraine – such as diet, medications, supplements and lifestyle.
For example, here are my balloons:
• Change in weather
• Irregular sleep
• Irregular blood sugar levels
• Caffeine and alcohol
• Heavy exercise
• Exposure to chemicals including scents
I can experience a few of these things, and still be OK. But add in one too many, and sure enough, I’ll develop a migraine about 4pm that day.
The weights I use to help keep me safe are:
• Supplements or medication
• Herbal medicine to manage stress, keep liver healthy and balance hormones
• Regular sleep
• Nutrition and diet
• Avoiding caffeine and alcohol
• Gentle exercise and movement every day
• Stress management techniques
• Using natural products
• Modified lighting
• I’m afraid I can’t change the weather, but managing all the other factors can mean barometric pressure changes don’t affect me as much as they once did.
Over time, the balloons and weights can change. For example changes in hormonal profile, digestive health, work situation and so many other factors can influence how we need to manage migraines.
A good place to start to manage your own migraines is to write down all your balloons and weights. Check in each day whether you are still in the safe threshold and whether you might need to check you have enough weights to keep you in the safe zone.
And if you would like some support to help you work out the cause/s of your migraines, or come up with treatment strategies, why not book in for an online consultation and we can figure it out together.
Managing sleep is a vital, yet complicated, aspect of migraine treatment which is often overlooked.
Too little sleep can trigger a migraine attack. Too much sleep can also trigger a migraine attack. Sometimes a sleep (particularly in the early stages of an attack) can treat a migraine. Getting good quality restful sleep can help prevent migraines. Yet migraine sufferers often have difficulty obtaining good quality restful sleep.
Yep! It sure is complicated.
Let’s unpack a few things here.
Firstly, people living with migraine (according to the American Migraine Foundation), are between 2 and 8 times more likely to experience sleep disorders, compared with the general public.
This insomnia can stem from conditions which are often associated with migraine – such as anxiety and depression, stress, pain, teeth grinding and sleep apnoea.
And yet - and this is really not fair - not getting enough sleep can increase the number of migraine attacks, creating a cycle of sleep problems – which leads to more migraines – which leads to more sleep problems.
This is why addressing those factors which impact on sleep is often a priority in the natural treatment of migraine.
Too much sleep – such as sleeping late on holidays and weekends, or afternoon naps - can also trigger a migraine.
So, the key is to work on balance and consistency when it comes to sleep:
• Keep a consistent bedtime and wake time every day – even on weekends. The best number of hours varies from person to person – but aim for 7-8 hours. If you are a young person, you may need more sleep than this. If aged 50 or older, you may need less sleep.
• Create a calming bedtime routine. Avoid technology at least one to two hours before going to bed, try a warm shower or warm bath with Epsom salts, diffuse lavender oil, turn down the lights.
• Avoid naps. If you have a migraine attack and or need extra sleep that day, try aiming for an earlier bed time in the evening instead of an afternoon nap.
• Keep the bedroom for sleep. Don’t watch TV, scroll, talk or text on your phone, study or eat in the bedroom. Keep clutter out of the bedroom and use natural bed materials. Consider an air purifier or Himalayan salt lamp.
• Try a sound machine or sound app – I like Sleep Stream.
• If you find yourself awake during the night, don’t watch the clock – it will make you anxious and more frustrated if you can’t sleep. Get up for a little bit, have something to eat (often migraine sufferers get low blood sugar during the night), try a guided meditation or deep slow breathing.
• Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
• Spend some time outside during the day in natural light. Morning sun on your face is particularly good for helping to regulate sleep patterns. If you can exercise gently in the sunlight in the morning, even better.
As a naturopath, I also often prescribe specific sleep supplements to help establish a sound sleep routine, or improve the quality of sleep.
Are you looking to reduce the severity and frequency of your migraines, reduce or avoid pharmaceutical treatments or support overall health? Supplements may deserve a place in your migraine management strategy.
Many supplement ingredients researched have evidence that supports their use as a preventative treatment - although not so much for an active migraine. The exception to this is ginger, which can help settle nausea during a migraine, and perhaps even stop a developing migraine if taken early enough.
Diving into research papers and clinical trials, these supplements have proven to be effective in reducing the frequency and severity of migraines, when taken regularly:
- Butterbur herb (not readily available in Australia)
- Magnesium (particularly magnesium diglycinate)
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
- and possibly Feverfew herb*
With migraine, it is important to remember that what works for one person, will not work for another. For example, some forms of magnesium will actually trigger a migraine for me, but will work well for other people.
As a practitioner, I also take a personalised approach and look at the overall health picture and possible drivers of migraine in each individual. So, I might consider which herbs and nutrients would work together to address imbalances in the following areas:
Just like our fingerprints, the supplement regime prescribed is different for every single individual - I’m fairly certain I’ve never given the same prescription twice. (This is why after an initial consultation i spend at least an hour preparing just one client treatment plan as each case is complex, with many factors to consider.)
And, as I always say when talking about supplements, it is important to consult with a qualified practitioner who really knows their stuff - such as a naturopath (trained in both nutrition and herbal medicine), herbalist (trained in herbal medicine) or nutritionist (trained in nutrition). Please don’t take a supplement based on internet articles or because a friend “swears by it”. Supplements vary greatly in quality, potency, effectiveness and safety, and it is important to work with a qualified practitioner to get the best results and avoid possible side effects. Never buy supplements from overseas sites as they may bypass strict Australian quality controls.
Take care and feel free to reach out if you would like a consultation to consider which supplements may work for you.
*Feverfew herb is a traditional herbal medicine for migraine. Some studies show it is effective, while other studies have failed to show this. In clinical practice, I find it does tend to enhance the action of other supplements and herbs, and you will often find it in a combination remedy. (In fact, this is often the case for many herbal medicines - herbs seem to work best in synergy with other herbs, which is why herbal medicine formulas are highly prized in both Western and Eastern herbalist practices. Herbal medicine truly is both an art and a science!)
With an increase in awareness of food intolerances, particularly gluten and dairy, many people are now curious about food allergies. They wonder if they have food allergies, and if they too should be avoiding certain foods to improve their health. This can be a confusing topic, so let's look a little deeper into the difference between allergic food reaction and food sensitivity or intolerance and whether you might benefit from food sensitivity testing.
Before we continue, it is helpful to have a mini biology lesson and learn a little about our IgA, IgE, and IgG immune responses. IgA, IgE and IgE refer to immunoglobulins, or “antibodies.” These antibodies are part of our immune system, and are made in response to things we come in contact with on a daily basis. Our bodies make antibodies to foreign substances like bacteria and viral cells, but can also respond to foods, dust, animal dander, and pollen. Antibodies help the body prepare an immune system response (“fight”) against what is sees as foreign trespassers in the body.
IgA and IgG reactions are known as delayed response reactions, that include food intolerances or sensitives.
IgE responses are immediate and are considered a true food allergy.
IgA and IgG reactions may not be evident straight away, but can take hours to days to show up in your skin or intestines, and cause a wide range of symptoms which you might not even attribute to what you eat.
These symptoms can be related to inflammation like headaches, fatigue, brain fog, or joint pain. People with food intolerance may experience digestive upset like nausea, constipation, or diarrhoea, or skin rashes including conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
IgE immediate hypersensitivity reactions are characterised by the hives, and throat swelling that accompany anaphylactic reactions some people experience when exposed to certain foods. Other symptoms can include wheezing, coughing, a runny nose, vomiting, swelling of the lips or tongue, tearing or redness of the eyes, or even a weak pulse and loss of consciousness. Common foods that trigger IgE reactions are peanuts, shellfish, egg, dairy products, soy, tree nuts, wheat and fish.
IgA immunoglobulins are present in our mucus membranes and helps us fight bacteria and viruses. IgA increases in response to foods when the foods we eat cause inflammation, and in response to stress, disease, or alcohol.
An IgG reaction to food proteins suggests tolerance related to immune cell reaction. Repeated exposure, inflammation, and immune reactivity contribute to sensitivity and high IgG in response to food proteins.
Testing for Food Allergy and Sensitivities
IgE allergic reactions are tested with skin prick or patch testing as well as blood testing to know what foods and other allergens must be avoided and when an Epi-pen is an appropriate prescription.
While you can test IgG and IgA for rood reaction, this is not diagnostic of hypersensitivity or allergy. These tests may indicate a sensitivity and intolerance, as well as inflammation. While blood testing is available for food sensitivity reactions, these tests are controversial as the results are commonly not reproducible and are not as reliable as elimination diets for uncovering food sensitivity.
What About Coeliac Disease?
IgA and IgG testing can test for whether you might be gluten sensitive or intolerant. If you are not diagnosed with coeliac disease, you may be gluten sensitive (not gluten intolerant). Those who have a true allergy to gluten have coeliac disease, which is caused by an autoimmune response to proteins found in wheat and some other grains, and harms the cells of your small intestine. Testing for celiac disease is done with a blood sample looking for more specific immune reaction to gluten and gliadin and confirmed with a biopsy of the small intestine.
Why would you consider testing for IgA and IgG food sensitivities if the tests are not 100% reliable?
• You like to see lab data with recommendations on how to improve.
• Someone you know did the testing and it helped them to feel better.
• An elimination diet may not work for you for one of these reasons:
o They are time consuming and can take months to go through the process of eliminating and then challenging foods.
o You have a picky/growing kid who already avoids some foods. You don’t want to restrict kilojoules or food groups entirely, or risk food aversion, or tension that can go along with an elimination diet.
o You are busy, enjoy eating out, or don’t have time to cook, and have limited time for the shopping and meal planning that is required to follow a restricted elimination diet.
If food intolerance or sensitivity testing seems like it might be a good fit for you, or if you prefer to try an elimination challenge diet to address your symptoms, then book in for an initial consultation with me to get started and work out the best solution for you.
There is some debate in both the healthcare sector and community at large as to whether we really need supplements. Some argue that we get all the nutrients we need from food, where as others point out that maybe our food doesn't have the level of nutrients that it once had. In addition, there is some confusion around the difference between RDI (Recommended Daily Intake) - which is essentially the amount required so we are not deficient in that particular nutrient; and a therapeutic dose (where larger doses of a nutrient are used to treat a specific condition).
In Australia, an overwhelming majority of the Australian public are consumers of vitamins and supplements, an industry which is estimated to be worth about $1.5 billion.
In clinic, I often have clients come in with shopping bags of supplements that they are taking. These supplements are of varying quality, sometimes out of date, and have been prescribed by various practitioners or self-prescribed.
I couldn’t possibly tell you without seeing you in person whether you need to take supplements, or which supplements you should take.
I would need to look at your diet, lifestyle, current stage of health and possibly run appropriate blood tests to answer this question. Naturopathy is about tailored health care which looks at the needs of the individual.
What I can advise is to first look at the building blocks of good health – this is good nutrition, a healthier lifestyle, exercise, fresh air, sunshine and lots of water.
That being said, sometimes supplementation is required in addition to cleaning up your diet and lifestyle. Modern farming methods, genetically modified strains and food processing can impact on the levels of vitamins and minerals present in our foods.
Sure, some popular food brands may advertise that they have added nutrients, but really these are there to make up for the nutrients lost in processing, or are so full of sugar that they are best avoided anyway, regardless of the added vitamins and minerals.
The thing with supplements is…the supplement must be right for you. For example, we all know that magnesium is a vital nutrient for health. However, magnesium comes in many forms – some which are better absorbed than others. And depending on your specific health requirements, sometimes you are better taking magnesium with certain co-nutrients to enhance its action in that particular system of the body.
The other important factor is that when it comes to supplementation, you get what you pay for.
Cheap supplements are not as potent, have less nutrients and are often bulked up with fillers that provide nothing in the way of health. Or they may not be created in a form which is used efficiently by the body.
I generally advise people to avoid supermarket and bargain supplements. Frankly, I find that they don't work nearly as well as a quality or practitioner-prescribed supplement.
Choose supplements either with advice from a Naturopath or qualified healthcare practitioner, or from a trusted health food shop or pharmacy with Naturopaths in store.
Be wary of what is advertised in the media, and definitely avoid Multi Level Marketing products where you buy supplements and diet products from well-meaning friends who don’t have any proper training or qualifications in healthcare.
Certainly never buy your supplements from the ‘specials’ bin outside the pharmacy. Fish oil is a fantastic and beneficial supplement when it is fresh and of superior quality, but it can actually go rancid sitting in the sun outside the local chemist.
My personal preference for everyday health is for naturally-derived vitamins and minerals, as I believe they are better absorbed by the body. A "greens" powder is a good example of this. However when looking for a specific action or therapeutic benefit, then sometimes a more formulated preparation is required.
So, when it comes to supplements:
1. Get professional advice from a qualified healthcare practitioner who actually has formal and clinical training in nutrition, herbs and vitamins/minerals – such as a qualified Naturopath, Nutritionist or Herbalist.
2. Buy the best quality supplements you can afford.
PS – If you would like a consultation with a Naturopath who cares about your health and wellbeing, and not about selling you supplements, then get in touch! I'd love to hear from you.
Book a consultation or free no-obligation discovery call here.
1. Change the lighting
Light actually hurts during a migraine. It’s known as photophobia. You can help by turning off bright (especially fluorescent) lights and closing the curtains. If a little light is needed, then soft or low lamps are better than ceiling lights.
2. Be mindful of perfumes and strong-smelling foods.
Strong smells can nauseate a migraine sufferer, who are thought to also has a heightened sense of smell. Which smells and odours cause problems can differ for individuals – check which ones affect the migraine sufferer in your life.
3. Keep it quiet.
The migraine sufferer is very sensitive to noise. Just like it is believed they have a super sense of smell, they also can seem to hear sounds that others can’t. What sounds quiet (or even normal level) for you can be deafening to someone who has a migraine. Speak softly and gently, and avoid any unnecessary sounds such as television, music and loud conversations.
4. Send a text. Don’t phone.
Talking can be difficult for a migraine sufferer on many levels. Firstly, their speech can be affected or they have trouble finding the right words or following a conversation. And secondly, the sound of talking can hurt. Also understand that it might be a few days before they feel up to returning your call.
5. Understand when they cancel social or work commitments.
As a migraine sufferer myself, I’ve had to cancel so many plans which results in feelings of guilt. Plan another event or outing with them in the future to show that you understand and are still there for them, no matter what. Check in on what is fun for your migraine sufferer.
6. Ask how you can help.
Offers to babysit, cover a work project, pick up a prescription or supplement, tidy up or help around the house, drive to appointments or pass on messages on a migraine sufferer’s behalf will be gratefully received.
7. Be supportive of their self-care.
Whether it is a change to diet or a need for quiet time, help them by not tempting them with foods or alcohol they are trying to avoid or crowding in on their downtime.
8. Understand that migraine is not just a bad headache.
Migraine is a whole collection of often debilitating symptoms which makes it difficult to function and think straight. Migraines can strike anytime, and some people get them weekly (or even daily).
Take the time to understand their symptoms, triggers and early warning signs that a migraine is on the way.
Treating and preventing migraine naturally is a special interest of mine. Book in a call or consultation if you would be interested in a naturopathic consultation to help you, or someone you know with migraine.
For many chronic migraine sufferers, particularly where migraines are inherited and experienced by many family members, migraines and headaches are simply “a fact of life”. Something to be put up with.
If you do regularly get migraines and headaches, you might have not stopped to consider the impact they can have on every area of your life.
The Migraine Disability Assessment Test
The MIDAS (Migraine Disability Assessment) is used by healthcare to help measure the impact of headache on your life, and find the best treatment for you.
Please answer the following questions about ALL of the headaches you have had over the last 3 months.
Select your answer in the box next to each question. Select zero if you did not have the activity in the last 3 months.
You can take the completed form to your healthcare professional.
1. On how many days in the last 3 months did you miss work or school because of your headaches? ___________
2. How many days in the last 3 months was your productivity at work or school reduced by half or more because of your headaches? (Do not include days you counted in question 1 where you missed work or school.) ___________
3. On how many days in the last 3 months did you not do household work (such as housework, home repairs and maintenance, shopping, caring for children and relatives) because of your headaches? ___________
4. How many days in the last 3 months was your productivity in household work reduced by half of more because of your headaches? (Do not include days you counted in question 3 where you did not do household work.) ___________
5. On how many days in the last 3 months did you miss family, social or leisure activities because of your headaches? ___________
Scoring: After you have filled out this questionnaire, add the total number of days from questions 1-5. Total _______________ (Questions 1-5)
MIDAS Grade Definition MIDAS Score
• Little or No Disability 0-5
• Mild Disability 6-10
• Moderate Disability 11-20
• Severe Disability 21+
If Your MIDAS Score is 6 or more, please discuss this with your practitioner.
What your healthcare practitioner will also need to know about your headache:
A. On how many days in the last 3 months did you have a headache? (If a headache lasted more than 1 day, count each day.)
B. On a scale of 0 - 10, on average how painful were these headaches? (where 0=no pain at all, and 10= pain as bad as it can be.)
You can also download the questionnaire as a PDF here.
(Adapted from Innovative Medical Research, 1997 © 2019)
Even though I have been a “migraineur” myself for over 20 years, migraines was not something I really considered as a chronic illness until recent years.
I still remember one of my first migraines. It arrived on the first day of my Higher School Certificate exams. English. That morning we had a creative writing exercise to complete, something I usually loved to do. But the migraine made it difficult for me to find the right ideas or words. Despite knowing that Lewis Carroll was a migraine sufferer, and that he wrote under the influence of a migraine attack (or perhaps the hallucinogenic drugs used to treat the condition at the time), I’m afraid my exam piece was no “Alice in Wonderland.” I bombed.
Looking back, I can now recall that the situation I was in created a perfect storm for migraines. Along with the significant stress of the time with all that high-pressure studying, there had been a change in weather that morning (a common migraine trigger), not enough gentle exercise or movement, and I no doubt had been not eating well.
From that time on, migraines came along more and more. To me, it was simply a fact of life to be endured.
After all, my Mum had migraines, my grandmother and great grandmother as well. Migraines seemed to be a regular visitor for all of us. Something to be tiptoed around, expected and just to be put up with. In my grandmother’s case, it meant a couple of days in bed. As new medications started to become available, it meant that my mother and I could “soldier” on through and keep working and functioning (although not very well) whenever we had a migraine.
Personally, I rarely allowed migraines to stop me. I never gave myself the permission to rest and recognise that I needed to take extra care of myself. I certainly didn’t make the connection between nutrition and migraine.
But gradually, migraines started to affect other areas of my life. I’d miss out on social and family events especially, as migraines arrived regularly on a Friday afternoon, and stayed with me throughout the weekend.
I had studied a little on migraines during my naturopathic studies, but not a great deal. Migraine was always one of those mystery illnesses which is notoriously difficult to treat. Medically, the cause was not well understood – in fact we are still trying to understand it.
Yes, in a naturopathic college, we learnt about the impact of certain minerals and vitamins, herbal medicines, and the importance of physical therapy and stress relief. How a change of weather can cause a migraine. All of this knowledge and treatments helped a little in their own way. But really, while there were lots of potential answers out there, no one seemed to have that one thing that could cure a migraine.
It has been the same with pharmaceuticals. Some of them could help treat a migraine in progress, some can help prevent them. Others would just take a tiny edge off the pain. But all had some wicked side effects, and the reality is that you needed to keep taking more and more medication as your body because tolerant to them.
Neurologists, psychologists, other specialists and physical therapists could also help to a degree, but again, there didn’t seem to be a single solution to either prevent migraines, or halt one in it’s tracks. Some practitioners seemed to not understand much about migraines at all. Many thought it was just a bad headache, and rarely did anyone ask about the other symptoms I experienced.
It wasn’t until later that I realised my other symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, needing to wee all the time, restless legs, tingling, itchy eyes, sore neck, ringing in the ears and dizziness were all part of the migraine picture.
Everyone seemed to have advice on how to avoid a migraine. Others just didn’t understand the difference between migraine and headache - “just take a Panadol and go to bed” they would say. But painkillers don’t really help.
Migraines just seemed to always have a way of making themselves win.
Over my 30’s my migraines started to increase - they arrived more frequently and also were getting more severe. In my early 40’s, a series of difficult life events meant that I now had a migraine more often than not. In fact, I now fitted the medical criteria of someone with “chronic migraines” - experiencing migraine 15 or more days a month.
I was facing a future of multiple medications to manage the condition, and as someone who believes passionately that, in most cases, everything we need can be found in nature - taking medications ongoing was something I refused to do if there was an alternative. They didn’t really help anyway and many made me feel worse.
Because migraines had always been a “fact of life” for myself and family, I didn’t take them that seriously until it seemed I had one every week. The fact is though, they ARE a chronic illness that hugely impacts our ability to work, function, have a social and family life. It is only now, when I have mostly migraine-free days, that I realise just how migraines were holding me back in so many ways.
So, in the past 18 months I’ve been studying every research paper and book I could on migraines. I’ve focused on migraines in my recent university work. And experimenting myself with a range of natural therapies. I’ve realised that, like many chronic neurological conditions, that there is no one single cure for migraine. A truly holistic approach is needed.
And, there is a lot of emerging research that shows we need to look at migraines in a different way than we have before. Each migraine is different, and we are discovering new types.
The brains of those who get migraines are different to the brains of those who don’t. There is an explanation as to why we are super sensitive to light, sounds and smells. That we tend to get especially anxious, and are often on hyper alert. Reasons why we get a migraine at the start of the weekend or holiday. Factors that mean we can see in the dark and smell things that no one else can.
In a sense, the brains of those who suffer migraines have not adapted well to modern living. And so we need to look to nature and more a more natural (dare I say primal?) diet to find the balance for ourselves again.
Through all this research and working with other practitioners, I’ve developed a set of treatment protocols for migraines. I’ve really done the research into which forms of certain nutrients and supplements are effective, and which ones aren’t.
As a practitioner, I find that you really need to look at the individual first. This is why I love naturopathy – we take the time to really understand what is going on with each client.
And we also need to face the fact that what we eat has a massive impact. I’m not just talking about well known triggers such as cheese, chocolate, red wine and citrus. But overall the importance of balancing our intake of sugars and mineral salts (essentially we need much less of the first and much more of the second). Simple solutions such as cell hydration is key.
And then craft a plan which addresses the many causes and triggers of migraines. Hormonal health, musculoskeletal health and digestive health all play a role here.
I’ve been developing a holistic approach that works for myself, and other clients. Sometimes what we can achieve naturopathically can be enough, sometimes we need to bring in a team of practitioners - GPs, physiotherapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors or massage therapists. And the results are very encouraging. I’m seeing much less or no migraines, less medications and more getting back into life. For myself, those weekly migraines have gone down to monthly migraines, and last month I didn’t get one at all. It is a massive improvement.
Migraine is a special interest for me. As someone who has experienced them, I get it.
If you, or someone you know, is having difficulty managing migraines, I’d love to help.
Super simple, sweet, wholesome little chocolate jelly treats - perfect for Easter.
These are also deceptively good for you, with the star ingredient gelatin which is great for skin health, metabolism, immunity, mood and sleep health, hormone balance and digestion. It is important to use organic gelatin for maximum health benefits.
Kids love to help make and eat these as well.
Anyone who experiences migraines (or is close to someone that does) knows that migraine is so much more than a headache. We all know about nausea and vomiting, and sensitivity to light, noise and smell – but there are many, many other migraine symptoms which are often overlooked.
For example, my partner used to be able to tell I had a migraine on the way when one of my eyes would water, or the eye would become smaller. If I have trouble talking or finding the right word, then I take that as a sign to put into place my migraine-avoiding strategies.
Migraine.com asked their Facebook community for their “strangest” migraine symptoms:
As we all experience migraines very differently, it can be useful to start keeping a diary of your own migraines, and write down as many symptoms that you notice before, during and after a migraine. Understanding your early symptoms and treating your migraine as soon as you notice them, is your best chance of avoiding a full-blown migraine.
You have no doubt heard that we don’t really need to “detox” because our body already does this for us.
And, that is absolutely right.
Our liver, kidneys, digestive system and even skin are constantly eliminating wastes and getting the nasties out of our body. All day. Every day. It is a natural process.
So, when we refer to “detoxing” we are really talking about how we can support our body to carry out its own natural cleansing.
Naturopathically, we do this by nourishing the body with whole foods, avoiding processed foods and unnecessary chemicals, and supporting the liver and kidney with strengthening and tonifying herbal medicines and supplements. And taking it easy.
Our liver performs more than 500 functions in the body. 500!
So doesn’t it make sense to make it a little easier for the liver to do its job by giving it a break from alcohol, coffee, processed foods and unnecessary chemicals. I remember learning at university that when we drink alcohol or coffee, our liver has to, in a sense, stop what it is doing to immediately deal with the constituents of alcohol or coffee (which it identifies as a “poison”) until it can process it into substances which is safer for the body to metabolise.
Detoxing, in the naturopathic sense, is about reducing the burden we place on our body so it can really address removing any stored or built up toxins in the body.
In many cases, I recommend that clients support their body to detoxify before we can really begin treatment. A detox might be for just two days or up to six weeks, depending on the individual.
Not everyone should jump in and start a detox though – for example if you are pregnant or on some medications – so it is important to see a natural healthcare practitioner first.
Wondering if a detoxification program might help you?
If you answer “yes” to a significant number of these questions, then you might want to consider a professional detoxification program:
If you answer yes to a large number of these questions, then you may want to consider a detoxification program. Learn more about clinical detoxification here.
And don't worry - a detox doesn't mean being hungry or feeling deprived. Check out this detox recipe for Caramelised Bananas with Coconut and Macadamia Crumble.
Liver Anatomy: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/liver-anatomy-and-functions.
Detox Questionnaire: www.metagenics.com.au
This recipes comes straight out of my 7 Day Ditch The Junk Plan - which is on sale for until February 2019.
Eating too much processed food can leave us feeling heavy, flat, tired and sluggish. Challenge yourself to trying this 7 day plan to help you swap bad habits for good ones. There is no calorie counting or cutting out food groups - just lots of good, wholesome delicious food.
● 2 cups old fashioned oats
● ¼ cup sunflower seeds
● ¼ cup flaxseeds
● ¼ cup goji berries
● ¾ cup peanut butter
● ⅓ cup honey or maple syrup
● ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
● ½ cup cacao nibs or raw chocolate chips
1. Mix oats, goji berries and seeds in a large bowl. Add peanut butter, honey, and vanilla. Stir until all ingredients are combined. Mixture will be thick.
2. Place mixture into an 8in x 8in baking pan. Cover and place in freezer for at least 1 hour. Cut into bars or squares with a sharp knife. Keep leftover bars in the freezer.
Something I notice in clinic is how many people say to me “I just don’t feel quite right. I’ve been to the GP and they have even run some blood tests, but everything came back normal and says I’m fine. I tell my friends and they tell me it is nothing to worry about, I’ve probably just been working too hard or not eating well enough. But I just don’t feel like myself.”
I actually see this A LOT in clinic. Many of my clients don’t feel that their health concerns are taken seriously by those around them.
The symptoms vary, but the result is the same: you don’t feel well, and just can’t quite pinpoint the cause.
These symptoms can manifest as:
Something that makes naturopathy, functional medicine and integrative healthcare a more holistic approach is the inclusion of a range of laboratory testing methods know as Functional Pathology. These tests often take a deeper look than the standard blood tests available under Medicare, and are performed along with the practitioner taking a very comprehensive case history of the client, which looks at medical history, symptoms, environmental and genetic factors, lifestyle, work, social and family support, diet and mind health. Combined with Functional Pathology testing (if appropriate), this helps the practitioner to get a very detailed picture of what is going on.
What is Functional Pathology?
A range of Functional Pathology tests are now available to the naturopath to check nutritional status, hormone balance, toxicity, microbiome, DNA, food intolerances, digestive function, or even the ability to metabolise certain substances. These are often cutting edge, science-based evaluation tests, and not always available through conventional laboratories. These tests investigate the underlying cause of what is going on.
Just like conventional pathology, Functional Pathology requires urine, blood or a plasma sample, with some tests also using newer methods to analyse saliva and hair.
An example of a functional pathology test is an Adrenal Profile, which will look at the levels of certain hormones (in this case cortisol and DHEA) present in saliva at several times during the day to determine whether the adrenal glands may be working too hard in an individual (due to ongoing stress) which may be causing mood changes, weight gain around the tummy, depression, fatigue, brain fog, insomnia or poor memory.
How much do the tests cost?
The cost varies – depending on the particular test, complexity and laboratory testing methods used, they are priced between $50 - $600. A simple nutritional test looking at blood levels of a certain nutrient is generally low cost, while more comprehensive DNA analysis (which looks at over 100 gene SNPs) may be $400. A food intolerance test will cost between about $270 - $400 depending on the number of foods and allergens investigated.
If you are on a budget and can’t stretch to getting tests done, a good naturopath can also assess your health by taking a good case history – in fact many of these tests were not around when I did my training, which meant our study was focused on taking a comprehensive medical history to determine the underlying cause of symptoms. So while Functional Pathology is a fantastic tool available to us, a good case history is the most important part of working with you to address your health.
An important note here – I have seen recently quite a few coupon deals for food intolerance tests and DNA or microbiome analysis. Often these tests originate from an overseas laboratory which may not have the same standards as Australian labs. I’ve researched these and have found that they are either not clinically relevant or comprehensive enough to provide any real insight. They also don’t take into account your individual health needs, or provide you with a realistic and effective treatment plan.
If you are ever in doubt, feel free to get in touch with me to discuss further.
How can I access Functional Pathology testing?
The first step is to book in to an appointment with a naturopath (like me!), integrative (holistic) GP or functional medicine practitioner. They will assess your health and work with you to determine the most appropriate test for you, and then will help to come up with a treatment plan to address the test results. This might involve dietary changes, supplements and lifestyle advice.
Ask for a healthcare practitioner that regularly undertakes further education and training in Functional Pathology to keep up to date with the newer tests which are becoming available each year.
Would you like a Naturopathy consultation? Book an appointment for an online or phone consultation with Josie here.
Learn more about Naturopathy here.
Learn more about the different Functional Pathology tests available here.
Freezable lunchbox recipes that are wholesome, nutritious and beats those processed packaged snacks hands down every time.
Beetroot Bliss Balls
A rich source of vitamin C, fibre and cancer-fighting phytonutrients.
1 cup dates
¼ cup beetroot, peeled and finely grated
¼ cup baby spinach, finely sliced and chopped
1 ½ cup pumpkin seed or sunflower seed meal (make yourself by finely grinding seeds in a coffee/spice grinder)
1 cup shredded coconut
1-2 tablespoons chia seeds
½ cup extra shredded coconut to roll balls in (optional)
Bliss balls will keep for up to 6 months in the freezer.
Recipe credit: Mandy Sacher, Wholesome Child, www.wholesomechild.com.au
Banana Oat Muffins
1 cup oats
1 cup oat flour (you can blend oats in your blender or processor to make this)
¼ cup brown or coconut sugar
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3 tbsp ground flax seed
½ tsp salt
2 large eggs
¼ cup melted coconut oil
2 cups mashed bananas (about 6 medium)
¼ cup chopped nuts, optional
Freeze for up to 3 months.
Recipe credit: Josie Carin, Ditch the Junk Challenge (starting 29 January 2018)
Pesto and Cheese Savoury Scrolls
2 cups wholemeal spelt flour
1 cup natural Greek or coconut yoghurt
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon bicarb soda or baking soda
Pinch of sea salt
½ cup pine nut pesto (bonus points if you make your own)
1/3 cup mozzarella cheese
Freeze for up to 4 months. Frozen scrolls can be warmed in the oven again.
Recipe credit: Mandy Sacher, Wholesome Child, www.wholesomechild.com.au
Mini Salmon Frittatas
Full of good fats, salmon has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect and is full of antioxidants such as vitamins B, D and E, which are great for the immune system.
Butter, for greasing
½ cup goat’s cheese or grated cheddar
2 spring onions, finely chopped
4 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup broccoli florets, lightly steamed
100g fresh salmon, poached or baked (or use tinned salmon if fresh not available)
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Dulse flakes, optional, to taste (available to purchase from here)
Freeze for up to 1 month.
Recipe credit: Lee Holmes, Supercharged Food for Kids, www.superchargedfood.com
Detox. It’s a term you’ve no doubt heard a lot of on TV, in magazines or in the gym. But why should you ‘detox’?
Detoxification is your body’s natural process of changing dietary and environmental toxins into less harmful substances before eliminating them from your body.
We all do it, every day.
But sometimes, the processes that manage detoxification in the body becomes overwhelmed. And we start to notice some symptoms.
Who should detox?
A detoxification program can benefit most people. Ask yourself these questions:
• Do you suffer from bloating, gas, reflux, constipation or diarrhoea?
• Do you often feel tired or lethargic, no matter how much sleep you get?
• Are you overweight or obese and have trouble shifting weight?
• Do you get recurrent headaches and migraines?
• Are you regularly suffering from muscle aches and pains?
• Do you have difficulty concentrating and feel ‘foggy’?
• Do you have allergies and sensitivities?
• Do you suffer from mood swings, anxiety or depression?
Supporting natural detoxification processes can help improve digestive function and may even help you lose a little weight, however the benefits do not stop there.
Healthy detoxification pathways may also lead to a reduction in other seemingly unrelated symptoms, such as sore joints or painful periods. Even if you’re fit and well, for many people a regular detox leaves them feeling more energised whilst reducing the toxin load.
So Where Do These Toxins Come From?
The term ‘toxin’ refers to any substance with the potential to interfere with normal cellular function and which may negatively impact both your short and long-term health. You do not have to look very far to find toxins as they may be found in household chemicals, personal care products, and also in some foods (e.g. food may be exposed to pesticide residues or toxic metal contaminants).
Your body is designed to remove these toxins via the ‘channels of elimination’, i.e. your liver, kidneys, bowels and skin; but it is possible for these channels to become overwhelmed, depending upon your level of exposure, and this may reduce your overall health and wellbeing.
So Where Do I Start?
Walk into any pharmacy or health food store today and you will find a number of over the counter detox products.
Some of these are great, but they don’t assess your individual health requirements and so are limited in their ability to meet your detoxification needs.
You might also have friends or colleagues who recommend multi-level-marketing programs such as Isogenix, Juice Plus, Doterra. While these are great at promoting a healthier lifestyle, I can't endorse these as the best option for everyone.
If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, then I suggest seeing a qualified natural health practitioner (such as a naturopath or nutritionist). A personalised program based on your specific health history, together with the added benefit of professional support and advice from a qualified natural health practitioner can have a much greater impact on your detox capacity – helping to promote long-term wellbeing beyond the duration of the program.
Oh, and of course I should mention that you can consult with me. I have an online practice where I "meet" with clients from all over Australia. So that might be an option for you too. (Just check out the Bookings page to book yourself an appointment).
Herbal Help to Boost Your Detox
In clinic, depending on the needs of the client, I often use three key herbal and nutritional formulas, based on scientific research, to lay the foundation for effective detoxification.
These formulas focus on supporting the three main channels of elimination:
The first formula helps optimise your liver’s detoxifying capacity. It often contains the herb Milk thistle along with Cape jasmine and Green tea to help protect your body from the harmful effects of metabolising toxins. In addition, the amino acids taurine and glutamine support liver detoxification pathways and promote a healthy digestive tract.
The second formula incorporates the greens Spirulina, Coriander, Kelp and Aloe. These herbs assist with the binding of toxins and promote alkalinisation, since an alkaline pH is required for effective removal of wastes via the kidneys.
Finally, a traditional herbal formula containing Dandelion, Gentian, Lemon balm and Ginger not only helps to minimise any existing symptoms of poor digestion such as burping and bloating, but helps stimulate the digestive secretions and bile flow you require for optimal digestive function.
Depending on the client, I may also prescribe a specific probiotic, or perhaps a formula to support sleep, the nervous system, energy levels or hormonal health.
Detox Diet and Lifestyle Support
Modern diets can be a major source of ongoing toxin exposure due to the intake of caffeine, alcohol and refined processed foods, which typically contain artificial additives, preservatives and toxic fats.
Not only do these add to your toxin burden but put they mean more work for your organs of detoxification. (Which in many of us are already working pretty hard).
By cutting out the foods I mentioned above, while eating more plant-based wholefoods, you can enhance the effects of the herbal and nutritional formulas and boost your detox capacity.
The Path to Long-Term Wellness
Supporting effective detoxification is a cornerstone of Natural Medicine practice. I find that my clients who undertake a cleansing or detox program before we begin working on their specific health problems experience quicker and longer lasting benefits.
The Practitioner Only Detox Programs are simple and easy to follow, and I also have your back to support you. I’ve undertaken them myself, and coached many, many clients through the process.
Depending on what is going on for your health right now, the length of the program can be 2 – 6 weeks.
If you are interested in your own detox program, then drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org or book in for an online consultation via the Bookings page.
I also have a free 3 Day Cleanse Program which is a good place to start. I designed this program to be gentle yet effective, and today it is one of my most popular downloaded resources. Grab it for free on the Resources page.
I've noticed that when I go a bit overboard with eating and indulgence in December, my energy drops way down. I start to rely on sugary treats and caffeine to get through each day, which of course makes the cycle so much worse.
So, here are the 3 simple things I do to get back on track, and feel energised, happy and full of vitality to do all the fun Summer stuff that we look forward to all year.
It sounds really obvious. In fact it is so obvious that it is easy to forget.
Upping your intake of fresh, pure water; and non-caffeinated herbal teas can help you feel energised, motivated, clearer and lighter.
In fact, as I was writing this post, I threw out the cup of coffee I had just made, and replaced it with a peppermint tea (did you know that peppermint has a cooling effect in the body - great for Summer!)
2. Eat more unprocessed foods
Cut out the junk, packaged foods, convenience meals, takeaways, refined grains, sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Replace them with fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and protein.
Your body will LOVE you for it.
3. Make friends with your liver
Your liver works hard when you overindulge, especially if alcohol, caffeine and sugar is involved.
Increase your intake of leafy green vegetables, fresh herbs, broccoli, lemon, rocket. Replace that second coffee with dandelion root coffee. Chew your food well so your digestive system doesn't have to work so hard to extract nutrition.
If you need a more personalised approach to your Summer wellness, make an appointment to talk to me or consult your healthcare practitioner.
GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is one of the major neurotransmitters in our brain – and is a chemical that our brain cells use to communicate with each other.
It is a naturally occurring chemical that calms the mind and puts the brakes on brain activity when needed.
If you are easily overstimulated and often overwhelmed and stressed out, then your GABA might be depleted.
Other signs of GABA deficiency include:
While you can get synthetic GABA, as a naturopath I prefer to instead support the body to increase the production of GABA naturally. Nutrients such as Vitamin B6, glutamine and l-theanine (found naturally in tea) helps us produce GABA, as well as magnesium and kava.
Eating carbohydrates can also help, but it is important to choose low-sugar, unrefined sources such as sweet potato, wholegrains, legumes (beans) and fruit. Include oats and almonds as these also naturally support GABA production.
And in case you need another reason as to why to enrol in that yoga and meditation class, then it is worth noting that yoga has been shown to increase GABA in the brain of those who practice regularly.
Bianca* aged 37, came to see me about her insomnia and subsequent fatigue. She also wanted to quit smoking and reduce her drinking - she was enjoying 3-4 glasses of wine every evening.
She described herself as always being an anxious person, and also had been diagnosed with depression previously. Bianca had seen psychologists and psychiatrists frequently in the past, and at times had been on various antidepressants.
In her 20's, she had been, in her own words, " a bit rock and roll" - binge drinking and regularly taking recreational drugs - which she now felt she had been using to deal with her anxiety and depression.
She never felt completely well. Always tired and she had trouble thinking clearly.
Most nights she had trouble getting to sleep - sometimes she didn't fall asleep until about 3am, and then struggled to get up in the morning. As a result, she was often late for work, and on weekends wouldn't get up until the afternoon.
Bianca was worried about her current mood swings. She noticed that recently she had started lashing out with anger - "explosive rage" she called it. And her libido was low.
After taking her case history, I suspected that she may have Pyrrole disorder -the main biochemical features of this disorder are a severe zinc and B6 deficiency (amongst other nutrients).
A urine test to detect the disorder was organised, and 2 weeks later we had indeed confirmation from the laboratory that Bianca likely had Pyrrole disorder, which meant here body had trouble storing zinc, B6 and other nutrients - vital for mental health and hormonal health.
The next step was to supplement. When dealing with mineral and vitamin deficiencies, it is important to supplement very carefully, as reintroducing too much can cause side effects. So, an individual supplement regime was put together, gently introducing vitamins and minerals to Bianca over a period of time.
In addition to this, I also put together a herbal mix to support the nervous system.
After a month, Bianca came in to my clinic to tell me that she was able to fall asleep more easily, and sleep soundly. She felt better able to manage her mood and angry feelings during the day. What's more she had started to reduce the number of cigarettes she had daily - she noticed that she just didn't think about smoking as much anymore (addictive behaviour has been linked to Pyrrole disorders).
Two months later she reported her energy had improved significantly, and she has the motivation and energy to move from part time to full time work. She was sleeping really well, and found it easier to get up in the morning.
She also noticed that her skin had improved (she suffered from eczema) and her menstrual cycles were more regular and with less incidence of PMS - an example of how when we address the root cause of one thing, we end up improving other health conditions.
Three months later, and Bianca now feels that her energy has gone from 3/10 to 9/10 on average. She has given up smoking, and now only drinks on weekends, just having one drink at a dinner out.
This is a great example of how correcting a nutrient deficiency can have effects in many parts of the mind and body.
IRRITATED BY ALLERGIES?
Spring. At this time of year it seems like the world is divided into two groups of people. Those that don’t suffer from allergies. And those that do.
Now, if you are in the first group, then you have probably clocked the word allergies, and decided to skim past this article. But stay with me here, or at the very least, skip through to just before the last paragraph, because there I’ve got something just for you.
For those of you who DO experience the effects of allergies – sneezing, sniffling, watering eyes, itchy throat, coughs, headaches and feeling just damn irritated by it all, then here are some strategies to help you overcome your symptoms, and maybe even deal with the cause.
SO WHAT CAUSES ALLERGIES?
Allergies happen when your immune system has an abnormal reaction to a normally harmless substance (the allergen). The allergen will bind to antibodies, which then causes mast cells to release histamine, which in turn, causes inflammation. Where the histamine is released in the body will determine the symptoms experienced – a runny nose; itchy, watery eyes; shortness of breath and dry skin may all be signs of mast cells reacting in those parts of the body.
Typical allergens can include pollens, animal dander, dust mites and mould. You may be allergic to one or many things, and it is worthwhile getting tested to determine exactly what it is that your immune system over-reacts to.
GET YOUR PLUMBING HUMMING
A great part of our immune system resides in the gut, so it is important to take care of the digestive system. Probiotics can help to balance out intestinal flora, and adopting a clean-style of eating really makes a difference. When choosing probiotics, it is best to get advice as to which strain will work best for you. Probiotics with the LGG strain are often indicated for those with allergy-type symptoms.
An intolerance to certain types of food can make the symptoms of airborne allergies worse, so it may be worthwhile investigating this through food intolerance testing or trying to eliminate any foods you suspect may make allergies worse. Common foods which can cause problems are milk, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, soy and wheat.
And avoid sugar. It is very inflammatory and a high sugar intake has been shown to depress the immune system.
Eat up foods which contain high levels of vitamin C as it is a natural anti-histamine. Good sources include blackcurrant, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, citrus fruit, guava, parsley, pawpaw capsicum, pineapple, potatoes, raw cabbage, strawberries, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.
Speaking of pineapple, the nutrient bromelain, found in the sweet fruit, is a great remedy for sinusitis and hay fever as it thins out mucus. Nice.
Anti-oxidants in general is helpful, so eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is the way to go. Also includes lots of garlic in the diet – it is great for the respiratory system in general.
Look after your liver. Spring is a great time to consider a detox and eliminate (or at least try and reduce) habits which add an additional burden on the liver such as coffee, alcohol, junk and processed foods.
Replace your morning tea or coffee with a daily fresh juice of parsley, pineapple, lemon, cucumber, carrot and ginger.
Don’t forget to consider herbal remedies too.
Albizia works to stabilise those pesky mast cells to treat a runny nose, itching and asthma, and as an added bonus, also has a positive effect on mood and memory.
Another important herb used to manage allergies is the prettily named Perilla, from Eastern Asia, which is anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic, and is used for hay-fever, itchy eyes and skin, and sinusitis.
Other herbs that help deal with allergies include Elder Flower, Eyebright, Golden Seal, Horseradish and Nettle Leaf. There are also herbs which can modulate the immune system such as Echinecea, Korean Ginseng, Shiitake and Withania.
Make no mistake – herbs have a powerful action and can interact with other medications, so seek professional advice before using. Your best bet is to ask your naturopath or herbalist to make up you up a custom herbal blend for you, or recommend a suitable tablet formulation. There are some very effective practitioner-only supplements.
Something also to try is peppermint and lavender oil in a diffuser – this can help to clear the nose (and the mind). Great to have handy on your work desk.
SOME COMMON SENSE LIFESTYLE ADVICE
Obviously, you will want to avoid as much as possible the airborne allergens. Avoid grassy areas in springtime. Use pillow case and mattress protectors to keep dust mites under control. Some people find that using synthetic materials instead of animal product materials in the home helps, or even going to the measure of eliminating carpets and curtains. An air purifier or dust filter can also be effective.
Ensure you get plenty of sleep and drink lots of water – it is surprising how these simple measures can make a difference to allergy symptoms.
And don’t forget to address the mental irritation that allergies cause. Where possible, work to adopt a positive frame of mind and look at meditation and yoga to help calm the mind. Take your mind off your allergies by keeping a gratitude journal, and perhaps also have a “happy list” of about 15 things that you make feel happy, and commit to doing one straight away.
HELPING ALLERGY SUFFERERS
Even if you don't suffer from hay fever, I bet that someone close to you does. Be the best friend in the world, and organise an allergy-free date for someone you know who suffers allergies.
Perhaps an indoor picnic followed by a movie, and bring a gift basket filled with some home-baked low sugar treats, fresh citrus juice, and don’t forget a box of tissues! You’ll feel great knowing you have helped someone take their mind off their allergy symptoms.
Naturopath, Nutritionist and Herbalist