Motherhood and Booze

booze.jpg

My job is to support you to feel the best that you can, to guide you towards achieving your health goals. Now, food is the focus of what I do, but sometimes good health, mental and physical, can be about what we need to work on leaving out, too.

I’m talking about alcohol.

I’ll be honest. I don’t drink much or very often. I love a good glass of red with steak, or when I’m out with friends, but booze generally makes me feel like crap, so I tend not to bother. Some clients dig their heels in when it comes to their wine or Prosecco. They need it, they’ll tell me. I don’t underestimate the strength of this feeling. Women in their 40s and 50s are likely experiencing greater stress than ever before – menopause, ageing parents, raising children, working and all this whilst attempting to look after themselves. You deserve a drink at the end of a long day, right? I understand the defensiveness, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you why, if you drink more than one glass every or most nights, your health might suffer.

Might alcohol play a part in your anxiety or depression?

Women around menopause are particularly prone to anxiety and depression. There may be many reasons for this, but one is roller-coaster hormonal shifts. So, to take the edge of your edginess you have a glass of something. Except that alcohol is a depressant, so you’ll feel better for a bit, but just a drink a day for some women is enough to increase anxiety without them making the connection.

Sleep disruption

Alcohol disrupts sleep. If you’re menopausal, this may be even more so. If you suffer from hot flushes and night sweats, alcohol may be a contributing factor.  That said, this is largely anecdotal so observe your own body’s reaction.  

Cancer

This is a biggie. There are lots of statistics regarding alcohol and cancer. The cancer charities don’t mince their words on this. “Alcohol causes cancer.” “Alcohol increases your risk of getting 7 different types of cancer.” Specific to women, “Your risk of breast cancer increases if you drink just one alcoholic drink a day.”

Are there any health benefits to drinking?

This is the latest advice from The Drinkaware Trust, an independent UK-wide alcohol education charity.

·       A review of evidence carried out on behalf of the UK’s Chief Medical Officers in 2016 concluded that women over 55 are the only group that may experience some overall protective effect from drinking a small amount of alcohol (around 5 units per week.)

·       For anyone drinking above the low-risk drinking guidelines, alcohol’s possible benefits on the heart are outweighed by other health risks, including acute harms and other very serious illnesses, such as liver disease and cancer. The potential benefit would also only occur if your 14 units are spaced out during the week – consuming heavily in one session can cause a heart attack.

·       So, any potential benefits on the heart depend both on your overall consumption and your general pattern of drinking (how much and how often).

OK, so how much can you drink?

It gets a bit murky here. I took a dive into guidelines internationally and they vary wildly. What some countries consider ‘safe’ is way above what other countries recommend. And how often you drink is important – you’re better off drinking over a number of days, but with a few alcohol-free days a week, rather than bingeing and drinking your ‘allowance’ in one night. In the UK, the recommendation is no more than 14 units a week, which equals about 6 medium glasses of 14% ABV wine. BUT the authors of a major international study on alcohol intake published last year in The Lancet stated that they considered there to be “no safe level of alcohol consumption.”

If you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, avoid alcohol. Again, this advice differs internationally, and the UK have jumped back and forth on this in recent years, but current NHS advice is not to drink.

Take home?

It makes even a sober head spin a bit doesn’t it? From my perspective as a nutritional therapist, my focus is taking a step back and looking at your lifestyle, your diet and how much you drink. Let’s get some perspective and some context. Is it the odd glass? More than that? Why do you drink? Are you drinking alone, unhappy? Or having a drink and laughing in the company of loved ones and eating a fabulous meal? What do you eat day to day? All these factors combine to create a picture of your health and well-being. There’s no one size fits all. Is it better if you didn’t drink much at all, if at all? Sorry, but based on everything I know, I’d say yes.

That said, there is no judgement and if you are finding that you want to drink a few glasses of wine at the end of the day once the kids are in bed and that’s sacrosanct, there are ways to approach that. You might consider having wine every other night, or one glass not two, but also explore other ways to mark those hours when the small people are tucked up. What about treat-replacement? That could just be a magazine and a soak in the tub with a beautiful bath oil, or how about taking 10 minutes lying on your bed listening to Calm or Headspace. You may feel you need the booze less once you’ve relaxed in another way. Or is it the routine of pouring a drink once you’ve said “Goodnight”, that you love? I’m told the alcohol-free “gin” G&T is a pretty good swap.

There isn’t an easy answer.

So much of motherhood is about giving of yourself. Giving back to ourselves is important and often overlooked. That glass you pour at the end of the day, especially when it’s been a tough one, may feel like what you deserve. However, if it becomes so entrenched in your daily routine that it’s the only way for you to decompress, it may be doing you harm, and you do not deserve that.

Seeking Out Sourdough

Margot Bakery, N2

Margot Bakery, N2

Who’d heard of sourdough bread ten years ago? Well, OK, but mainstream it was not. Now it’s like the salted caramel of baked goods. It’s everywhere.

I am very lucky to have a sourdough bakery just around the corner from my house. Buying bread fresh from the oven is hard to resist. What I particularly love is that there are only a few, organic ingredients. Quite unlike the industrial, mass-produced, spongy, chemical-laden rubbish that passes itself off as a sliced loaf on every supermarket shelf in the country. (How did we ever become persuaded that bread that wasn’t mouldy after 10 days was a good thing? It takes a chemical to do that. NOT what we want.)

Sourdough has been enjoying a renaissance in the UK for the last few years, for several reasons. One is “the starter” – which takes the place of yeast. Starter is simply flour and water mixed together and left to ferment for a few days until it becomes a frothy, bubbly, thick liquid. Not everyone likes the slight sourness that comes with it, but it’s that ‘tang’ that gives sourdough its nutritional superiority. Fermented foods are very much in vogue right now and for good reason. Fermented foods are a source of good bacteria for our gut. These good bacteria can improve digestion and boost immunity, amongst other things. No surprise then that sourdough has picked up popularity.

Back in 2001, there was research to compare the nutritional benefits of sourdough vs yeast leavened bread. Sourdough came out on top. Why? Because it confirmed that fermentation process impacts the nature of the wheat – it breaks down the phytates.

“What’s a phytate, Thalia?” I hear you cry. Well, I’m glad you asked. Phytates are naturally-occurring compounds found in whole grains, legumes, nut and seeds. One problem with them is that they are known to bind to micronutrients like zinc, magnesium and iron and can slow their absorption in the body.

So, fewer phytates mean our bodies can better absorb the nutrients in the flour and fewer phytates makes the flour more digestible. This means those sensitive to gluten may be able to tolerate sourdough, most likely a superior choice to the gluten-free breads you buy in the supermarket, which are often filled with all sorts of fillers and nasties.

But not all sourdough is created equal. The loaves you buy in the supermarket may not be the real deal. An investigation last year revealed that only 4 out of 19 loaves tested contained the traditional four ingredients only – starter, flour, water and salt. The rest also contained additional ingredients – they had the tang but only because it was added in. Yep.

So, the upshot is, whether gluten is your friend or not, sourdough can be part of a healthy diet for bread lovers everywhere. Praise be to toast.

 

 

 

The Power of Sleep

This week is Sleep Awareness Week.

We all know how much more of a struggle life can be if we’re tired and we all know we need to sleep, but how many of us prioritise sleep?

howling-red-622247-unsplash.jpg

How often do you delay bedtime to watch an extra episode of your latest box set or lose yourselves in Instaworld? Hands up who goes to bed an earlier later than when they first think, “I should really go to bed,” because it’s easier to stay on the sofa? Mine goes up.

The science of sleep has become a huge topic in recent years. Check out Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep and Arianna Huffington’s The Sleep Revolution. The upshot of both books is, if you value your brain, get more sleep.

How well and how much you sleep impacts:

Your mood – who isn’t crankier when they’re tired?

Your appetite - we’re more likely to reach for quick energy options when we’re tired, namely junk and caffeine.

Your coping mechanisms – if you’re tired, you’re more likely to feel overwhelmed.

If you’re a parent reading this, you’re probably rolling your eyes. I know. Yeah, we need at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night – great, but who’s telling our kids? Nothing can prepare you for the brutality of chronic sleep deprivation as a parent but whether you’re a parent or not, there are some things you can strive for each day, to improve the quality of your sleep.

Here are my top 6 tips for getting some better Zzzzzz…

1. Step away from the light… at least an hour before bed, PUT. YOUR.PHONE. DOWN. The blue light that screens emit suppress the production of melatonin, which helps our brain to regulate our circadian rhythm. To be avoided.

2. Try not to have caffeine after midday – caffeine has a half-life of 5-6 hours, so that post-lunch latte may be affecting how well you sleep, even if you don’t realise it.

3. Keep your bedroom as dark as possible – start with low lights in the evening to prepare the body for sleep. If your curtains or blinds let in light, try sleeping with an eye mask.

4. Keep tech OUT of the bedroom. No phones, no laptops or tablets.

5. Try and leave a few hours after eating before bed. The better you have digested your meal, the better you’ll sleep. And avoid late night snacking for the same reason.

6. Aim to do 5 minutes of relaxation before bed - this can take the form of deep breathing. This can be as simple as a series of deep, slow breaths. Try the 4-7-8 breath - breathe in for the count of 4, hold for the count of 7, and slowly let your breath out for the count of 8. It takes a little practice but give it a go. Build up to ten rounds.

So, if only for this week, aim to be in bed just half an hour earlier each night and see how you feel. More energised? Better skin? Less hungry? Happier? I'll take any of those.

Netflix can wait.

Source: Photo by howling red on Unsplash

Perimenopause - what is it and am I in it?

emma-simpson-153970-unsplash

emma-simpson-153970-unsplash

You’re going along, PMS-period, PMS-period, all the joy, and then BAM something changes. Your PMS is a little worse. Or a lot worse. You cycle has gotten shorter. Or longer. You’re feeling anxious, but you can’t work out why, and is it me or is it HOT in here?

Are you menopausal? Or is this the perimenopause? First up, what’s the difference? Perimenopause is basically menopause transition by another name. It’s the bit between your periods changing to you not having them for 12 months, which is the medical definition of being post-menopausal. Menopause is the destination. Perimenopause is the journey. For some women, this transition is something they don’t notice, for others it has a big impact on their life, and for 1 in 10 women, that “transition” can last for up to ten years and start in their late thirties or early forties.

What does the transition feel like? Well, symptoms can be physical or emotional. There are several tests that can indicate whether you are menopausal, but oftentimes the symptoms speak for themselves, especially if you’re 40+.

Symptoms are emotional and physical and often include:

·         Tired (all the time)

·         Anxiety

·         Mood Swings

·         Memory loss

·         Brain fog

·         Period changes (longer or shorter cycle, heavier bleeding)

·         Low sex drive

·         Hot flushes

·         Night Sweats

·         Insomnia

This is not an exhaustive list (just exhausting to experience).  The reason why you can feel like your PMS has ramped up is because our hormones may be in a state of flux as we age – oestrogen, progesterone, thyroid, insulin… just a few of the hormones that dictate how well we are handling “the change” as it approaches.

Can diet help?  Yes, but as part of a series of measures that might make this time easier.

Balance your blood sugar

Don’t skip meals, and every time you eat make sure you’re getting some protein (for example, chicken, fish, tofu, nuts, seeds, eggs) and a healthy fat (examples include avocadoes, eggs, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds) as well as some vegetables and a piece of fruit. And this also means ditching the sugar in your diet as much as you can… yep, that’s the chocolate, cakes and biscuits that you may think are helping you cope, but which are just aggravating the problem.

Stay regular

Aiming to have a bowel movement a day is part of managing hormonal imbalance. Eating plenty of fibre especially from fruit and vegetables and wholegrains can improve your digestion and in turn help your body excrete excess oestrogen, too much of which can contribute to the perimenopause symptoms.

Feeling seedy?

Seeds are a great source of phytoestrogens – flax, chia, sunflower, sesame, pumpkin – take your pick. A few tablespoons a day as part of your diet may help with hormonal balance.

Eat Your Greens

All vegetables are good, of course. But cruciferous vegetables, like cabbage, broccoli, watercress, rocket and cauliflower may support the liver to detoxify oestrogen, helpful if your levels of this hormone are high.

Diet is just part of the picture. Lifestyle changes are also essential to weather this hormonal storm the best you can – that includes working on getting more and better sleep and learning to cope better with stress. Easier said than done, right? But finding small but consistent ways to deal with stress can have a huge impact on how your body copes. Self-care is not indulgent, it’s a coping mechanism and it’s vital. It can be as simple as 5 minutes of deep breathing when you wake up or before going to sleep (try breathing in for the count of 4 and slowly exhaling for the count of 7, and do it 10 times); it might be getting to that yoga class once a week, or even just making sure you get a walk around the park once or twice a week; it can be time with friends to share and laugh or time alone in a bath with your favourite podcast or your favourite magazine – or all of the above!

Gwynnie stood up not long ago and said, “Hey world, I’m experiencing perimenopause,” (I paraphrase) but she was jovial when she said it. True, she was talking about it to promote her Goop menopause supplement, BUT she said that menopause needs a ‘re-brand’ and I think that’s true.

When our mums went through menopause, it was “going through the change”, a phrase most likely mouthed with dramatic emphasis rather than spoken out loud and was generally endured with misery and often sadness. But menopause is not a disease. It’s a process which our bodies are designed to go through.

So, remember, menopause is the destination, perimenopause is the journey – so post-menopause should be Shangri-La. Right? I hear women say they feel great to be through the other side. My job is to make the journey to post-menopause less stressful, less overwhelming and well, just, less. Let’s work on that together.

If you are experiencing any symptoms that concern you, please see your GP.

 

 

Will seed cycling sort my period problems?

Can eating seeds improve our periods?

Photo by Cathal Mac an Bheatha on Unsplash

Photo by Cathal Mac an Bheatha on Unsplash

That’s the premise of seed cycling. Whether your hormonal misery is PMS or perimenopause, if you have a menstrual cycle, you can try it. Seed cycling is the practice of eating specific seeds, in a prescribed quantity, in each phase of your cycle, to support hormone balance. It uses flaxseeds, pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds.

Beginning on the first day of your cycle, you eat 1-2 tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseeds and raw pumpkin seeds. Following ovulation, you switch to 1-2 tablespoons of raw sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. If you don’t know when you ovulate, switching at day 15 is recommended.

The idea is that the flax and pumpkin seeds support oestrogen production and hormone metabolism in the first half of your cycle, the follicular phase, and then the sunflower and sesame support progesterone levels in your luteal phase (the phase between ovulation and your next period). That’s the theory. So, have I done it and what do I think? Honestly, no, I haven’t. Do I eat seeds every day? Pretty much, but I’m not prescriptive about it. Does eating those seeds have a positive effect on my menstrual cycle? Maybe. But I can’t be sure.

Let’s consider scientific research – well, there are no studies that I could find explicitly comparing the effect of seed cycling with any kind of control. However, an absence of specific studies on seed cycling does not equate to its potential value or lack of. It just means it hasn’t been studied YET. Now, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence for it – by which I mean people saying that it’s helped them enormously and this, in my opinion, should not be disregarded either. If you just dip your Google toe into seed cycling, you’re going to find that women in huge numbers have tried this.

There are a decent number that considers the impact of flaxseeds on health and there is certainly literature that recommends ground flaxseed for hormonal balance. Take one period misery, menstrual cramps: the cause of period cramps may be due to excess prostaglandins, oestrogen dominance (too much oestrogen in your body, or your body not clearing oestrogen effectively), or inflammation. Seeds are rich in omega 3 fatty acids which may help lower inflammation and tackle the effects of prostaglandins. Also, the lignans in the seeds may help support the elimination of oestrogen which helps reduce the chances of oestrogen dominance. Several studies have highlighted other benefits on hormonal health of ground flaxseeds:

1. Fewer anovulatory cycles in normal cycling women

2. Longer luteal phase with higher progesterone/oestradial ratio

So, it doesn’t seem like an outrageous suggestion that eating a few tablespoons of seeds might improve your cycle. They are little nutritional powerhouses. Upping your daily dose of these four – flax, pumpkin, sunflower and sesame - is going to help increase your dietary intake of zinc, omega 3, calcium and magnesium - and that’s all good. (Buy organic though to rule out pesticide residue.)

My professional opinion is that there are any number of interventions that can improve hormonal problems for women, both dietary and lifestyle. I would always suggest that if you are having problems with your cycle, be it low mood, painful periods, breast tenderness or anxiety, consulting a qualified and registered nutritional therapist will give you 1:2:1 tailor-made care that is more likely to garner results than just trying one thing, like upping your seed intake each day. But hey, give seed cycling a go for a few periods and see if you find any benefits and be sure to let me know if you do! Remember, pay attention to the bigger nutrition picture too – good hormonal balance requires lots of good quality protein, healthy fats, eating the rainbow, good sleep and keeping your sugar, caffeine and booze to a minimum.

Period cravings

If your period is due, you’re almost certainly on the hunt for junk. A bar of chocolate. Party bag of cookies. Six pack of Frazzles. Whatever it is you’re craving, it all comes down to the same thing - being pre-menstrual and wanting to eat junk food go hand-in-hand for many women and for some it feels like a battle each and every month.

So, what’s the deal? Well, there are various theories on this, but not an overwhelming amount of scientific evidence.

Read More

"Periods are meant to hurt. Right?"

Your period has started, and you feel like someone has applied a clamp somewhere deep in your womb. And the clamp is tightening. It hurts. What you really want to do is crawl under a blanket on the sofa and watch trashy TV.

If this is you for a few days every month, you’re not alone. But your period does not need to hurt.

Read More

“Do I have to give up coffee?”

This question usually comes at me with a side order of mumma attitude. What is sacrosanct to most knackered mums? Caffeine, chocolate and wine. Not necessarily in that order. We’ll talk about the other two another day – but for now let’s talk about coffee.

Right. Caffeine. Evil genius or much maligned superhero? Well, there’s been tons of research on caffeine.

Read More

Overwhelm

I hear this word quite a bit. I hear it in my own head and from the mouths of friends and clients.

How many of us feel overwhelmed at home but manage to go out into the world, to work, or to the school gates and smile when someone, walking past, brightly asks how you are.

“Fine, thanks!” Even though the truth is nowhere near fine. But we’ve managed to get dressed and get out the door – so how bad can it be?

Read More

My favourite turmeric latte

A turmeric latte a coffee house speak for warm milk and turmeric. It’s a recent craze but one I’m happy to embrace. Spices are a wonderful, easy, inexpensive way to bring health benefits to our diet. These 4 can all go into your homemade turmeric latte and are my absolute favourites for warmth and nourishment.

Here’s the recipe:

Read More