At the GP’s waiting room again? It’s time to go drug-free and break the cycle…
“With the right support, advice and nutrition it’s perfectly possible to go through this stage of life drug free,” says natural menopause campaigner Maryon Stewart (maryonstewart.com). “There’s no doubt that what we eat influences our health and hormone function. In particular, research shows that hormonal balance can be positively affected by eating the right foods.”
The ‘eat yourself well’ message is certainly an appealing one, but can diet really make a difference in the face of miserable hot flushes, night sweats and mood changes? “A healthy diet in general will help alleviate menopause symptoms to some degree,” says Maryon, “but there are specific nutrients that are key. Many of the menopause symptoms occur due to low levels of oestrogen.
To overcome these symptoms it’s important to consume foods rich in phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens attach themselves to the oestrogen receptors and fool the body into believing that there is naturallyoccurring oestrogen and the hormone balance is restored.”
The misery of gnawing back pain – whether experienced first hand or witnessed in another – isn’t easily forgotten. Fortunately, Pilates can offer hope to everyone. “It’s never too late, or too soon, to help manage or help prevent low back pain,” says Pilates guru Lynne Robinson, founder of Body Control Pilates (bodycontrolpilates.com). “But the key is not just to strengthen your back, you need to regain control of your posture and movements. Gone are the days when everyone with back pain was given painkillers and told to rest in bed! The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) updated guidelines on low back pain and sciatica, published in November 2016, recommends ‘‘exercise in all its forms.’ The message is clear, staying active is the best way to manage your back pain.”
“Pilates teaches you the fundamentals of alignment, breathing and centring,” Lynne continues. “How do these help? Awareness of good posture and the ability to maintain it throughout the day can help to reduce the stresses and strain on joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles. Efficient breathing techniques aid relaxation and facilitate ease of movement, and centring – which includes core stability – is at the heart of good Pilates practice. All the exercises work on developing your deep core muscles which support and protect your spine.”
Herbal medicine is a tonic for the spirit and body, so it’s fitting that the cheering red berries of autumn have protective properties for your heart. Medical herbalist Paula Grainger takes her heart-healthy hawthorn berries steeped in brandy. “Hawthorn is rich in anthocyanidins, the dark red/blue pigments that are often found in foods considered to be superfoods,” says Paula, whose new book Adaptogens (£10, Gaia) is out now. “It’s been found to have a regulating effect on blood pressure, which means that it can help to lower it when it is too high and slightly raise it if it is very low (helpful if you are prone to postural hypotension, which causes dizziness when you stand up quickly).”
“The ability to lower blood pressure is down to the way it strengthens and restores elasticity to blood vessel walls, which can harden with age and poor diet. Stress raises blood pressure and can be an important factor in heart disease, but this herb can help to protect your heart from the long-term effects of stress. Studies suggest that hawthorn may have other supportive benefits for the heart. For example, it may lower a rapid heartbeat by helping the heart pump blood effectively.”
“If the symptoms associated with IBS are down to a congenital problems, nutritional therapy will manage them, so you can be the best ‘you’”, suggests Joanna Hill, founder of the Bagnall Centre (bagnallcentre.com). “If the symptoms are caused by something you’re doing they should be reversible, though often conditions like IBS aren’t reversible with medicine because doctors haven’t been trained in nutrition. A nutritional therapist takes a naturopathic approach, looking at the person as a whole. Yes, the intervention will be nutritional in the end but it’s about looking at how the problem has been caused in the first place.”
We’re all encouraged to learn more about our diet, so why not self-diagnose? “It’s hard to know what’s the problem, whereas a therapist will be quick to pinpoint what’s going to make a big difference,” suggests Joanna. “A nutritional therapist looks at not just what you’re eating but when you’re eating, how you’re eating it, what mood you’re in and what time of day it is. There are a whole range of things that influences how your body reacts to the food it eats, and a food diary just can’t capture that.”
“Osteoarthritis is one of the conditions for which there’s strong evidence from randomised controlled trials that acupuncture is effective,” says Mark Bovey, research manager at the British Acupuncture Council.
“Generally, traditional acupuncturists operate at two levels. The ‘branch treatment’ is aimed at addressing the symptoms directly, and with arthritis that usually means pain, reduced mobility and so on. The ‘root treatment’ addresses the underlying pathology, and through that you hope to make people more robust in the longer term – reducing flare ups, increasing resilience and improving mood.”
Acupuncture may seem like a strange combination of the clinical and the mystical, but the empathetic, holistic approach practitioners take is always tailored to the client’s needs, whatever their outlook. “Does acupuncture work by modulating your endocrine system or balancing qi energy?” asks Mark. “The answer is both. Some patients find it easier to talk about balancing energy than neurological details, but if you think of it a bit like releasing water that’s been dammed up in plumbing, some people can relate. Why do people get better? Largely because of their own healing processes, and we try to help and encourage those as much as we can.” Find your nearest BAC practitioner at acupuncture.org.uk
Try a magnesium supplement
“Recent research has shown those with lower levels of magnesium can experience a greater frequency of migraines,” says nutritionist Cassandra Burns. “An increased magnesium intake can reduce attacks by up to 41.6 percent, yet many of us live hectic, stressful lives and are exposed to environmental and food toxins which can make us more prone to a magnesium deficiency.”
Try taking echinacea
“Use tincture of echinacea angustiflora – a few drops dribbled into your mouth as often as you can,” says Dr Sarah Myhill in her new book The Infection Game (£14.99, Hammersmith Health Books). “Hold this in your mouth for as long as you can, gargle with it, and let it dribble slowly down your throat. I have one patient who stands on his head to allow it to soak the top of his throat and nasal passage – why not?”
Try having inulin
You’ve heard that your gut microbes benefit from good sleep patterns, right? Well, it cuts both ways – research suggests prebiotic supplements create enough improvement in microbial populations to encourage better sleep. Increasing your intake of natural prebiotics – leeks, onions, garlic and Jerusalem artichokes – or taking a supplement could make all the difference.
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