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

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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

 

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Blood tests come back normal but you still feel bad ….

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Does this scenario sound familiar to you ? You don’t feel well. Something doesn’t feel right in your body.  You go to the GP, get some blood tests done and they all come back within the ‘normal range’. The GP tells you everything is fine and that’s that. You go home feeling like it must be in your head. No one has taken how you feel seriously. You still feel crappy, tired, down, sore or sick but there’s no ‘evidence’ so nothing gets done about it. You are within the ‘acceptable level of health’ but is it acceptable to you ?

If I had a dollar for each time I looked at a set of blood results and saw that things were not, in fact, all ok, I would be a lot wealthier than I am. It is rare for me to see a completely normal, unremarkable set of bloods. There is almost always something out of kilter or at least off the mark enough to indicate where there may be a problem.

The ‘normal ranges’ set for most pathology tests are not accurate for everyone.  They are based on averages of a wildly diverse group of people. For instance, your iron results might look normal on paper but would you still feel they were accurate if I told you that they were based on a reference range sourced from a group of men or women ranging in age from 18 – 69 years with little consideration given to factors such as disease, hormone status, level of activity or specific diets which all impact on peoples ability to use and store iron ?

Same goes for thyroid function. Natural health practitioners estimate that 10% of adult women are in the sub-optimal or low functioning range yet the stated ‘normal range’ doesn’t back this up. Standard testing accepts a thyroid stimulating hormone range of    0.5 – 4.0 mIU/L.  Anything below 1.0 or above 2.0 rings alarm bells for me. People may have many, many signs of thyroid dysfunction but if the tests are ‘in range’ you go home without any support for what can be a very difficult health issue.

So if you are feeling below par and want to know why book your appointment, bring in your paperwork and lets find some answers and solutions.

 

 

The lowdown on cortisol …

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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 ….

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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.

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The weather is warming up ….. Smoothie Time

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Whether you are trying to get some extra nutrients into your diet, lose some weight or change up your breakfast routine you need to make smoothies your new best friend.

Quick to pull together, nutrient dense and so many variations that you’ll never be bored.
I swear by smoothies and have one almost every day. Lately I have been adding in some Just Greens or Just Reds powder for an extra boost and I am really noticing the difference. ( I don’t get paid to endorse these products – I just really like them )

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For even more oomph try adding some omega 3 sources like a teaspoon of flax, walnut or chia oil. Spirulina is a great source of amino acids and iodine. Probiotics found in live yoghurts or available in powder form is great for gut health. Protein powders can also be a huge help, especially when recovering from exercise. Use a clean powder like rice, pea or pure whey powder.

Whenever I speak to people who tell me they are too busy to eat well I steer them towards smoothies. If you have some frozen fruit and a blender you are off and racing. You can easily adjust the calorie level to suit your health goals and its easy to add in ingredients that you may be needing at specific times. 

To make things even easier and more time efficient you could try making up some freezer smoothie bags. Put the ingredients in the blender with some water or milk and you have breakfast ready in under a minute.

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Here’s a few of my favourites …. Use frozen fruit where you can or add lots of ice. Add enough water and ice to these recipes to get the consistency you like. Mix it up – there’s no hard and fast rules here. Add what you like and get blending.

My favourite smoothie
1/3 cup each of frozen mango and berries
1/2 small frozen banana
1/4 cup unsweetened apple juice
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons Just Reds powder
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 big handfuls of greens – spinach, celery, parsley, kale

Chocolate almond smoothie – for when you feel like something a bit sweet
1 cup almond milk
2 tablespoons chocolate protein powder
3 medjool dates
Lots of ice

Creaky joints smoothie – great for arthritis or any type of joint pain
1 stick celery with leaves
Small handful of parsley
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 peeled orange
1 cup cubed pineapple ( frozen is good)
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

Liver Boosting Smoothie – great of you have been exercising a lot, taking medications, using alcohol, eating processed foods or too much fat
1 small beetroot
juice of a lemon
big handful of kale
1/2 cucumber
1 orange

Digestive Help Smoothie – for IBS type symptoms
1 cup honeydew melon
1/2 cucumber
1/2 cup plain yoghurt with live cultures
1 teaspoon psyllium husks
1 teaspoon grated ginger
2 teaspoons honey

Stomach Settler – for an upset tummy
1/2 frozen banana
1/2 avocado
1 teaspoon chia seed
2 teaspoons honey
fresh mint

Lean muscle building smoothie – great for after the gym
1 orange
1 frozen banana
1 teaspoon chia seeds
2 teaspoons spiralling or Just Greens powder
1 cup water or coconut water
2 tablespoons clean protein powder

Recovery smoothie – replenishes after exercising and promotes recovery and muscle repair
1 banana
1 cup almond or rice milk
1/2 coconut water or water
2 tablespoons clean protein powder
1 teaspoon each of flax seeds, chia seeds and LSA
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon nut butter

Mega Green smoothie – so many minerals, anti-oxidants, immune boosters and liver supporters to keep you feeling great
1½ cups water
10 spinach leaves
5 kale leaves, stalk removed
3 celery stalks with leaves
1  apple, cored and chopped
1  pear, cored and chopped
1  banana frozen
Juice of ½  lemon
1/2 avocado
big handful of parsley

Blended green smoothie with ingredients on wooden table

Warm Kale and Pumpkin Salad …

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This salad ticks all the boxes. Warm and hearty, fresh and tasty. Leftovers are great for lunches. You can add whatever is in your fridge to change it up – feta, other vegetables, cranberries or pomegranate, nuts. With raw kale, barely cooked green veggies, healthy carbs and seeds you can’t go wrong.

Warm Kale and Pumpkin Salad
2 cups cooked quinoa or brown rice ( I like to use some of both)
2 cups cubed pumpkin or sweet potato
2 cups of mixed green veggies – beans, asparagus, broccoli, zucchini
3 cloves garlic- leave skin on
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup stemmed and finely chopped kale
3 spring onions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons of seeds – pepita, sesame, pumpkin
1 small bunch of kale, finely shredded
Sliced avocado
FOR THE DRESSING:
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp honey
pepper to taste

*** Tip – If you like a creamy dressing place some of the avocado into the dressing ingredients and whiz in a blender.
Directions:

Put quinoa or brown rice on to cook as per packet directions.
Preheat oven to 180 C. Place chopped pumpkin/sweet potato and garlic cloves on trays in a single layer. Drizzle over a little olive oil and roast till soft – about 20 mins. Give them a shake every now and then to make sure they crisp up on all sides.
Place prepared greens in a pot of boiling water until almost cooked then remove from heat. Leave lid on to keep warm.
Chop kale and spring onions.

Make the dressing by whisking the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside.

When the pumpkin is done remove garlic cloves and set aside. Spoon the pumpkin and greens into a large serving bowl. Gently stir in the quinoa/rice and the cooked green vegetables. Add onions and kale.
Trim the end off each garlic clove and push the roasted garlic out and mash. Whisk the garlic into the dressing. Pour the dressing onto the vegetables/rice/quinoa and toss to coat.
Season with salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle over seeds and serve immediately with sliced avocado.

Food – keeping it simple and getting it right…

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I have spoken to a few people lately who seem to have some real issues with food – what to cook, finding time to make it, hating the whole process, eating junk because it’s quick and in the cupboard….

Ok, I can appreciate that times can be at a premium and that cooking is not everyone’s favourite pass time but the thing is that we all need to do it, our lives and health depend on it and it just tastes good !

So here we go, my tips for getting your head in a better space when it comes to eating.

1. Food is fuel but that’s not all it is….. sure we need food to provide nutrients and fuel our bodies and of course that is the major role but spare a thought for the magic that happens between someone planting a seed and it ending up on your plate as something much grander. Better still, grow something yourself and marvel at the process.

Take time to eat and enjoy each others company – make it a ritual. It works for you on so many levels and teaches your kids the value of good nutrition.

2. Don’t eat things you cant pronounce – keep it simple, fresh and generally plant based. If you look at the ingredients and don’t recognise it I think its safe to say that its probably not good for you.

3. Stick to things that were once in the ground … fruit, vegetables ,herbs, grains, soy products, cereals, nuts, seeds – you cant wrong with this stuff.

4. Honour the process – it has taken a lot of time and resources to bring that food to your fridge or table so treat it with respect.

5. Get some recipe books, or check out the ideas on this blog, and get creative. Try something new, surprise your taste buds and yourself.

6. Have some old favourites at hand – nothing is more comforting, time efficient and welcome than a great recipe you know off by heart that you can whip together in under 30 minutes. Some of our classics include chickpea curry, spinach pies, corn and sweet potato fritters and Nettie’s zuchini soup.

7. Get organised – make the time to make good food a priority. Have a cull of your pantry – throw out the junk and stock up on the versatile basics that will provide you with many meals.

Cut up your fruit – don’t leave it lying in the bowl on the bench – make some tasty fruit salad to have for breakfast, snacks and for after dinner treats – I promise you it will get eaten. Our favourite at the moment is a mix of pineapple, papaya, watermelon, rockmelon and mango – full of taste, helpful digestive enzymes and vitamins galore.

Make big batches of the meals you like and put some in the freezer or fridge for quick meals or lunches.

Anaemia – getting enough iron ???

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One of the most common things I see in my practice is iron deficiency. Iron is critical due to it’s role in the transport of oxygen from the lungs to body tissues and the return of carbon dioxide from tissues to lungs. It also plays a big role in energy production and metabolism.  This amazing mineral also has significant roles in neurotransmitter synthesis, meaning it helps to regulate our moods through brain chemicals serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline. Anaemia or iron deficiency is most commonly caused by a lack of ingredients necessary for good red blood cell production.

Iron is found in both animal and plant foods and it is a common misconception that those who adopt a plant based diet are destined to a life of anemia. The richest source of iron is actually kelp followed closely by some red meats, beans, lentils and peas. Iron is also found in many nuts, green leafy vegetables, molasses, egg yolk and whole grains.

Iron is absorbed into the body via the intestinal wall and the amount we absorb is dictated by the food source and, most importantly, by the other foods we consume at the same time. It is essential to have adequate vitamin C which can increase the amount of iron you absorb by up to 30%. Other vitamins and minerals which are helpful to iron absorption include vitamin A and B vitamins ( particularly B12 and folate) , calcium, manganese and copper.

A good way to ensure that you are getting the most from your diet is to include a good quality multivitamin and mineral supplement daily.

Some things which inhibit the availability of iron and reduce stores are alcohol consumption, antacid medications, phosphates in meat products and soft drinks as well as some conditions such as Coeliac Disease, IBS and rhematoid arthritis.

Women are particularly vulnerable to iron deficiency or anaemia through menstrual blood loss and during pregnancy when the babies’ needs often place a heavy strain on the mothers iron stores. Children, especially those going through growths spurts are likely to be iron deficient. Children with behavioural issues or learning disorders are also commonly found to be low in iron.

Signs of iron deficiency include : fatigue, headache, low mood, constipation, pallor, ridges in nails which run lengthwise, brittle nails, shortness of breath, brain fog, immune depression and menstrual problems.

Dinner is ready – Pea, spinach and macadamia pasta

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Last night was one of those nights when no one could quite work out what they felt like eating and the kitchen enthusiasm was lacklustre. There is no shortage of herbs, lemons and spinach in our garden at the moment so that got us thinking…

We started throwing a few things together based on what was growing like crazy in the patch and no one was more surprised than me when it tasted really good !

So here it is, the surprisingly yummy and oh so easy pea, spinach and macadamia pasta….. a little bit sweet, a little bit salty and full to the brim with green leafed goodness. This would be great too on bruscetta, as a dip or whenever you are looking to add a bit of zing.

500g peas
2 cloves garlic
1 concentrated liquid stock ( I used Continental Stock Pot – vegetarian )
100mls water.

1 good sized bunch of spinach (not silverbeet)
1 big handful each of parsley and mint
1/2 cup macadamias
Salt and pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
Parmesan for serving

Place peas, stock, water and chopped garlic in frypan and simmer until the peas are soft and nearly all the liquid has gone. Place in blender with all other ingredients and whiz till it looks like pesto. Taste for seasoning and serve mixed through pasta. Sprinkle over parmesan and tuck in.

The great thing about this is that most of the vegetables are raw and that you are getting a good amount of protein from the peas and nuts. It’s a great quick midweek dinner that should provide you with a healthy lunch for the next day too.

As an extra bonus peas are a fantastic source of vitamin C, A and K. They contain some B vitamins, are full of fibre and have no cholesterol. They also contain a surprising amount and number of minerals.

Adrenal fatigue …. do you fit the bill ??

Adrenal fatigue is incredibly common and remains largely undiagnosed. It affects about 20% of the population, rising to about 70% during times of physical, emotional or psychological stress. The tell tale signs are :

  1. You feel tired for no reason.
  2. You have trouble getting up in the morning, feel foggy or can have an overwhelming sense of lethargy.
  3. You feel rundown and are easily overwhelmed.
  4. You have difficulty bouncing back from stress or illness.
  5. You crave salty and sweet snacks.
  6. You may feel more awake, alert and energetic in the evening than you do all day.
  7. You have an underactive thyroid, are menopausal or have been dealing with chronic or acute illness.
  8. You lead a stressful life which leaves you little time for relaxation or exercise.
  9. You are dealing with mental health issues or high levels of physical or emotional stress.
  10. You feel a sense of low grade depression and a lowered libido.

If you identify with these symptoms you need to have things checked out.

With a reduction in adrenal function every organ and system in your body is affected. Changes occur in your carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, fluid and electrolyte balance, heart and cardiovascular system.  Biochemical and cellular levels change to compensate for the decrease in adrenal hormones that occurs with adrenal fatigue. Your body does its best to make up for under-functioning adrenal glands but it comes at a price.

The adrenal glands sit above the kidneys and are responsible for the secretion of about 50 hormones. Along with metabolic and stress functions the adrenals also act to balance blood glucose and blood pressure and are hugely important for immunity.

There is lots that can be done to help overcome adrenal fatigue. Herbal medicines and nutritional supplements along with some simple lifestyle changes can make all the difference.

Want to feel better ? You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.