Low iron and why you are so darn tired all the time …

“Iron – one of the essential trace elements of life on earth. Formed deep within stars then scattered across space by collapsed supernovas which spew their contents right across the universe. Iron is secreted in our soils, hiding in our glaciers, floating in our oceans and carried in our blood” Ann Jones

I was amazed by this incredibly poetic description of how iron comes to us. So many of us have experienced times of low iron. So how does it happen and what can we do about it ?

Blended green smoothie with ingredients on wooden table

 

There are lots of reasons why you may be low in iron :

* Dietary insufficiency
* Blood loss from disease, trauma, menstruation
* Times of increased need e.g. recovery from injury, pregnancy, post birth, exercise
* Drug mugging – some medication make it hard for you to absorb iron. These include antibiotics, acid blocking medications, osteoporosis treatments, thyroid supplements.
* Lack of necessary digestive enzymes and cofactors needed for absorption
* Too much calcium or phosphorus

Iron is needed for many functions but the main one is for regenerating and rebuilding red blood cells. RBC’s use haemoglobin to carry oxygen around the body. Insufficient iron leads to low RBC count and means that the heart and lungs have to work much harder to ensure that oxygen is getting where it’s needed. Apart from blood production and oxygen transport iron is also needed for healthy levels of enzymes which control many cell functions and for healthy immune responses.

Signs of low iron :

* brittle or flaking nails
* cold hands and feet
* tongue soreness
* food cravings
* fatigue/lethargy/poor recovery/low motivation
* headaches
* shortness of breath
* lightheadedness
* palpitations/erratic heart rate
* poor immune function
* poor concentration
* depression, anxiety and panic
* muscle weakness and pale skin

Sources of iron include meat, dark leafy vegetables, dried fruit, nuts, blackstrap molasses, pumpkin and seeds, eggs.

Things needed to absorb iron efficiently – vitamin C, B12, folic acid, digestive enzymes and adequate stomach acid. Coffee, tea and wine can decrease your ability to absorb iron as can some medications (see above).

Blood tests :
An iron study of your blood is a snapshot of your current situation.
It is important to have good levels of serum iron and ferritin. The reference ranges on your blood test results are not always a good indicator of an adequate iron status. Read more here about pathology testing.

Depending on your level of deficiency, addressing low iron can take several months to correct and depends greatly on the quality and appropriateness of your supplement. There area number of herbal medicines which can increase red blood cell count and iron absorption making your supplementation much more effective. Anyone who has experienced constipation, nausea or other side effects of ‘off the supermarket shelf’ iron supplements can tell you how unpleasant it can be.

It’s worth speaking to someone who can identify the causes of your deficiency and the most effective, safe and side effect free iron sources for you.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Why pathology reference ranges aren’t giving you the answers you need….

blood

I have had a spate of clients recently with all manner of symptoms who been told that their blood test results are all in the ‘normal’ range. They have been looking for answers but they’re not finding them at the doctors office.

When discussing their declining health some have been told that this is just the way it goes, some have been offered antidepressants and others have been told that there is nothing wrong. One woman whose quality of life was very poor was told to be grateful that she didn’t have something more sinister going on. If your blood results are ‘normal’ then there is nothing to be done no matter what your symptoms are saying.

It’s hard when you are feeling genuinely unwell and seek help but end up being told that their is no evidence for the way you are feeling. It can lead people to feel fobbed off, disbelieved or like it’s all in their heads. One woman I saw recently told me that she had seen two GP’s and a specialist for terrible fatigue and headaches. She had blood tests, scans, spent hundreds of dollars and came out with a referral to a psychologist and a script for an antidepressant. She told me that she felt like they thought she was ‘just a complainer or one step away from a straight jacket’. This capable, productive, warm and friendly woman really was feeling quite low but not because of her original symptoms.

When we looked at her pathology results we discovered that the laboratories reference ranges were hugely wide. When we compared her iron levels and B12 levels to those of a year ago they had decreased significantly. They were still barely within the reference range but something had obviously happened to bring about such a drastic change in her normal range.

The previous year she had suffered a terrible personal loss, had changed jobs and had lost a lot of weight due to her inability to eat while grieving. All of this, combined with the enormous nutritional requirements of that kind of stress, had left her iron depleted, lacking in B12 and with some other essential levels barely scraping by.

After three weeks of nutrient therapy, herbal medicine and recommencing some gentle exercise her low mood symptoms had significantly reduced. She felt like ‘the fog had lifted’ and her energy levels were slowly building up again.

It will take a few more months to feel the full benefit of treatment but at least she is back on track, feeling hopeful and not the least bit ‘crazy’. She can see that there was a physiological cause for her symptoms and is feeling that there is light at the end of the tunnel. She is also feeling validated and good about the fact that someone has taken her seriously.

If this story resonates with you why not make an appointment to have a health assessment and review of your pathology tests. The results may surprise you and give you the answers you are looking for.

  • Story shared with permission of client

 

One for the boys … the magic of testosterone

 

muscles

Are you one of those men who doesn’t really pay much attention to your health ? When was the last time you felt really good ? Had a routine blood test ? Had a check up ?

Lately I have been encountering a number men who have a sadly common list of symptoms. They feel unwell, low or just not themselves somehow. Some have seen their GP but been told that everything is fine. They are testosterone deficient and it’s really dragging them down but they are being sent home without answers and it’s a crying shame.

Testosterone is a hormone that helps men feel good. It’s great for maintaining muscle mass, bone strength and density, sexual function, libido, production of sperm, confidence, good mood and energy.

At around age 40 testosterone starts to naturally decline but in healthy men this should only be by around 1-3% per year. Other reasons for declining testosterone are high cholesterol and blood pressure, too much sugar intake, poor sleep, obesity, stress, low levels of exercise, too much alcohol and some medical conditions like diabetes.

So what are the symptoms of low testosterone ? Low libido, erectile dysfunction, osteoporosis, low mood/depression, reduced strength and muscle loss, infertility, sleep problems, reduced energy and confidence and weight gain, especially around the belly region.

Why isn’t it being picked up by doctors ? I have seen a number of pathology results lately which place men in the ‘normal’ range according to their blood results. The problem with these reference ranges is that they are so wide you could drive a truck through them, they are based on sampling of men aged 18-69 with a host of varying health conditions and they don’t relate specifically to your age group. The ‘acceptable level of health’ has been set so low that many men are suffering unnecessarily.

A testosterone result of 8.5 might put you in the ‘normal’ range but normal for who ? A 65 year old man with diabetes, an 18 year old boy, a 45 year old athlete ? While pathology testing is useful it’s just as important to look at your symptoms and see if they match up.

So what can you do ? Make sure you aren’t inhibiting your testosterone production with the factors mentioned before – sleep, stress, obesity etc. Ensure that you have a good intake of healthy fats like olive oil, avocado, coconut oil – healthy cholesterol is the building block of testosterone and low fat diets are not your friend. Get some exercise – especially HIIT and weight bearing/lifting. The good news is that if you are trying to increase your testosterone you need to have more sex – I haven’t had anyone complain about that yet.

There are lots of ways to naturally increase testosterone. Ensuring adequate levels of zinc, potassium, vitamins A, B6, C and E is important. There are also a number of herbs which are very effective in getting things running well again.

So if you recognise yourself here don’t just put up with it. Come and see me – we can get you back on track again.

The lowdown on cortisol …

stressless

Most of us know that there is a link between stress and cortisol levels but there’s a lot more to this little steroid hormone than you may think.

Cortisol is produced in two ways – in response to stress and as part of our natural sleep and wake cycle. It peaks at about 8am to help us rise and shine and get active for the day.The levels drop throughout the day with the low point happening at around 4am before it ramps up again for our daily wake up call.

Cortisol plays a big role in our stress response. Cortisol helps us deal with stress by shutting down some  functions to allow the body to direct all its energy to dealing with the stress. This cortisol reaction is supposed to be short term and just long enough to deal with the source of stress. Unfortunately our lives can be anything but stress free and when stress is chronic this becomes a problem.

How does cortisol affect us ?

  • It stimulates glucose production and slows insulin meaning you end up with lots of sugar in your blood. Thats great if you actually have something you’re trying to run away from but not so good when you’re just sitting around feeling stressed about how to pay your bills.
  • Cortisol hinders the immune system when levels are high making your body more susceptible to infections and bacteria. Have you noticed how you always get sick when your stressed ?
  • It also slows bone formation and decreases calcium absorption so when its too high there’s no bone growth and no muscle growth.
  • It causes high blood pressure and decreased blood flow to organs
  • Too much or too little cortisol messes up thyroid hormones
  • Leads to increased stomach acid and reflux
  • Makes us less fertile and more likely to miscarry
  • Changes our metabolism and makes us hungry and less able to realise when we are satisfied

Our body has a system that is meant to regulate cortisol levels by shutting down production when things get too high. Unfortunately when we are stressed all the time the system gets mucked up and can’t regulate properly  – kind of like insulin resistance when we flood our bodies daily with sugar. The result is that our cortisol levels become unhealthy and high or  low at the wrong time of day leaving us feeling out of kilter.

Ways to lower cortisol

  • Regular exercise – not marathon running – try yoga, pilates, walking, stretching
  • Meditation, relaxation, breathing exercises
  • Get enough sleep
  • Listen to music you love
  • Drink black tea – about 3 cups per day
  • Get a massage
  • Learn some stress management techniques
  • Avoid all alcohol
  • Eat nutrient dense food – especially those high in magnesium, vitamin C and B vitamins.
  • See a naturopath for help doing all of the above ! There are some great herbal medicines and supplements that can support you back to healthy cortisol levels.

Headaches ….

headache

When I see clients and we do an assessment of their health almost everyone tells me that they experience headaches. Sometime it’s an  occasional thing but for many people it is a regular part of their life. Some people suffer with migraine and anyone who has had a migraine can tell you that it’s no fun at all. There are lots of causes so let’s have a look at what drives headache and some simple things you can do to help yourself.

  1. Dehydration. This is one of the leading causes of headache and the simplest type to fix. As a general rule multiplying your body weight by thirty gives you a rough guide of how much you should be aiming to drink daily. So if you are 60 kilos – 60kg x 30ml = 1800ml or  1.8 litres. You need to adjust this up according to how much exercise you do.
  2. Magnesium – Magnesium is needed for hundreds of body processes including stress management, muscle action and cardiovascular health. Deficiencies or even sub optimal levels can leave you open to headache. Lack of magnesium can cause cramping, muscle tension, blood pressure issues and poor blood oxygenation – all big drivers of headache pain.
  3. Mechanical issues – such as poor posture and  working at computers with head, neck and shoulders always bent downwards can cause headache. Try to have things at eye level and consider remedial massage for management.
  4. Low B12, B6 or iron levels. These deficiencies can be easily assessed with a blood test. Symptoms include fatigue, headache, brain fog, moodiness. Iron and B12 stores are needed to efficiently transport oxygen around the body, especially to muscles and brain. Lack of oxygen leads to headache and migraine. Vitamin B6 is a really important nutrient in the production and use of the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine and this is strongly related to migraine, depression and irritability.It is also necessary for the nervous system to function correctly so can lead to stress headaches when people feel overwhelmed.
  5. Liver function. If your liver isn’t working as well as it needs to toxins such as chemicals, bacteria, heavy metals, unhealthy foods, alcohol and caffeine won’t be efficiently removed from your system and will continue to recirculate through your blood stream. These toxins are particularly problematic for your brain where the capillaries and protection is thinnest leading to inflammation and headache pain. You need good levels of water, B vitamins and magnesium for liver function. The best thing though is to avoid the toxins in the first place.

If you are one of the many people who suffer with headaches I hope this helps you to manage them.

headacheheadacheheadache

Are you afraid or aware ?

Image

I have just finished reading a great article where the writer was talking about her decision to approach her fears differently. Instead of saying “I’m afraid…” she is now saying “I’m aware.. ”  Small changes in words, big changes in intention.

It may seem like playing with semantics but it changes “I’m afraid of coming out to my family” to “I’m aware that my family may need some time to adjust and understand but ultimately they love me”. It changes “I’m afraid of making some changes in my life” to “I’m aware that in order to make changes I am going to have to make some commitments to myself”. It turns “I’m afraid of being alone” into “I’m aware that things can change and I am going to love and enjoy the people I care about while I can”. It takes you from a place of anticipating the bad stuff to living more consciously and in a more productive way.

In my work in a women’s health centre I hear it all the time… I’m afraid to leave my abusive partner, get off the drugs, come out to my family, admit that the abuse I suffered wasn’t my fault, change my living circumstances, take the steps I need to get better….. Insert your own brand of sadness and difficulty here. Perhaps this new approach combined with lots of support could turn some really difficult situations into an opportunity to get back on track.

How much more empowering is it to say “I’m aware that things could be better and these are the ways I’m going to go about changing things” rather than feeling stuck and scared. I know that it is not that simple but surely it’s a better place to start.

Granted, not everyone is dealing with such difficult issues but we all have things that hold us back and keep us from moving along in a self directed and productive way. I’m going to try it the next time I’m alone in the house at night !

What are you afraid / aware of ???

Helping young people with mental illness…..

anx

I was reading an article a couple of days ago about the prevalence of mental health issues in adolescents. What struck me, and deeply saddened me, was the statistic that of all visits to health professionals by 13 – 21 year old people, almost 40% of them were for depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns. And these are the kids who are actually seeking help… the number could rise significantly if we include unsupported, financially stressed and struggling kids and families.

A study by the ANU Centre for Mental Health Research showed that 28% of people in the 19 – 21 year old age bracket had had experience with mental illness at some point. The other disturbing fact was that their research found that these kids had major concerns about the stigma surrounding mental health issues and significantly overestimated the reaction of others. These concerns often prevented them from seeking help. We need to make it easier for our kids to get the help they need and talking openly and compassionately about mental illness is a good start.

At a time in your life when you are accutely aware of how you are perceived, when you are trying to work out who you are, when you are flooded with unattainable, unrealistic and often negative images it is little wonder that kids can feel reluctant to seek help or even to let someone know that they are struggling.

So what are the signs to look out for : 

Sleeplessness/ Insomnia
Changed behaviour – problems at school, lack of or excessive socialisation
Loss of interest in hobbies or sport
Concentration problems
Withdrawal
Anger / Agitation
Sadness, hopelessness, tearfulness
Feelings of guilt
Lack of self worth
Difficulty making decisions
Excessive or inappropriate worrying
Loss of appetite or weight changes

It’s worth talking to your kids about these issues even if you feel that they are ok. When you look at the statistics and consider that nearly 1 in 3 kids is affected at some point it is highly likely that you have a child or know a child who may be struggling.

Early intervention is key to addressing the problem before it can take hold and take over. Seeing a naturopath is a great start – at NaturoCath Naturopathy you will find a compassionate listener and herbal and nutritional support.  Assessments can be done to check for potential physiological problems which may be driving the illness and a plan can be formulated to provide support such as counselling, advice and co-ordination of care with schools, GP’s or psychologists. This approach provides a multi faceted, supportive structure and reduces the likelihood of progression to antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications.

If medications are already being used, or if it is necessary to go on to medications we can work co-operatively with GP’s and psychiatrists to ensure that the medications are used in the most effective way and are supported by diet and optimal nutrition.

Talk to your kids, let them know you care enough to have the conversation no matter how hard it is. Help them develop resilience and self worth. Most importantly, take the time to listen. It may be the most important conversation of your life.

Taking the stigma out of asking for help …

Image

Why do we find it so difficult to ask for help ? Why is this such a stumbling block for so many of us ? It’s ironic that the people who find it hard to ask for help are often the type of people who care deeply about the welfare of others. Other people seem to have been raised on a diet of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps ” or being praised since they were small children for every act of independence. It is obviously a good thing to encourage children to do things for themselves but we need to balance that with the notion that there is no shame in asking for help when it’s beyond their ability.

It seems that we are becoming more and more focused on valuing the virtues of self reliance and autonomy. In good times these are great things but there may come a time when another kind of strength is more valuable. It takes courage, insight and a depth of self knowledge to know when it is time to accept the care of another.

If you knew someone was distressed, in trouble or in need of help wouldn’t you want to step up and help ? How many times have you said to someone in a difficult situation “why didn’t you come to me?” . It is important to try to remember that in allowing someone to help you provide them with a gift too. You give them the opportunity to show empathy and compassion, to express their humanity in a productive and helpful way. You allow them to share the burden and give them permission to ask for help when they need it. Allowing someone to be a trusted dependable friend and support is an honour worth bestowing. True friends or honestly caring professionals are honoured to help lighten your load.

Lena Horne said “It’s not the load that breaks you down; it’s the way you carry it.” Letting someone help you carry the load for a while is no sign of weakness.

I often say to my clients who are dealing with tough times that the tears, exhaustion and sadness are not weakness or a sign of failure – they are simply signs that you have been brave, strong and trying hard for way too long. Struggling alone leaves you with no other choice than to grow less able to cope, taking the step to ask for some support is not only brave but smart.

If you, or someone you know could do with some help call me today on 02 45677104 or email info@naturocath.com.au

Watching out for our most vulnerable – mental health for teenagers and children

Image

Did you know that 1 in 5 children or teenagers are affected by a mental health issue ? Depression, anxiety, compulsive disorders, self harm – these are all very confronting topics and difficult enough to deal with as an adult. Take a moment to think how it must feel to be a child or young person trying to navigate their way through a mental minefield.

For people aged between 18 and 24, the prevalence of mental health issues is the highest of any age group. If you feel like a child or young person you care about is struggling you should know that there is help at hand. The worse thing to do is to put your head in the sand. It can be difficult to discuss but, handled carefully and with kindness and respect, you can see this as the first step to helping someone get their life back on track. Talking helps take away the shame, embarrassment and stigma often associated with these types of problems. The person who says they have never had a time of mental turmoil or difficulty is lying. Let your kids know that you understand and that they have nothing to be ashamed of.

It can be difficult to work out whether your child is feeling depressed or anxious or just going through some normal teenage turmoil. My thoughts are that it is better to be safe than sorry. Talk to your child. Let them know they are not alone in feeling this way. If it is a passing thing – great – at least your child knows you cared enough to talk with them. If it is something more serious you have made the first step towards getting some support and getting better.

Look for the signs – social withdrawal, a change in school or work abilities, use of drugs or alcohol as self medication, teariness, changed sleep patterns, changed appetite or weight fluctuations, risky behaviours, anxiety, racing heart, hyperventilation, feelings of overwhelm.

At NaturoCath Naturopathy we provide a caring, supportive and effective environment. We employ a number of strategies to help you and your child through this difficult time. We look for underlying causes such as thyroid disorders, nutritional deficiencies, adrenal issues and hormonal imbalances. We treat with herbal medicine support which offers effective treatment of symptoms without any risk of suicidal tendency associated with some antidepressants or any issues of addiction or withdrawal.

Along with herbal and nutritional support we offer counselling from a qualified and compassionate counsellor with many years experience dealing with young peoples special needs.

There is no pigeon holing, no addictive medications, no sedatives or mind altering medications and no hard and fast rules. Call today for the help you need.

Herb of the Week – Passionflower

Image

Passionflower is one of my favourite herbs. This safe, gentle and effective herb gives great relief from insomnia, anxiety and depression. It has also been used effectively in the control of high blood pressure, neuralgia pain, sciatica, shingles and migraine. Due to it’s calming affect on the central nervous system it is also beneficial for people suffering with muscle spasm, nervous tics, Parkinson’s Disease and asthma.

Some studies have shown passionflower to be as effective as benzodiazapines. Fortunately it has none of the addictive qualities of these pharmaceutical drugs. The dosage is able to be tailored to your specific needs and situation to avoid any feeling of drowsiness or incapacitation usually associated with those types of drugs.

If you are feeling anxious, agitated or are having trouble sleeping passionflower is one of the safest first line treatments to help you get back on track.

Get in touch to see how I can help you

T 02 45677104

E info@naturocath.com.au

W http://www.naturocath.com.au