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The bugs within!
The human gut contains an extraordinary number of microbes, somewhere in the vicinity of 10-100 trillion symbiotic organisms, relying on us for their survival.
Collectively, they are known as our gut microbiome, and currently studied around the world for their role in our digestion, absorption, metabolism, immune defense and disease risk. These bacteria help us break down and digest our foods, help our immune system to recognize pathogens and gather our immune army for a response. They even help by producing anti-inflammatory compounds to keep us healthy. Our gut microbiome is as unique as our fingerprint, and depending on a number of factors (our genetics, our environment, our lifestyle and what we eat), our gut microbiome changes accordingly. An increasing number of studies have been linking microbiome composition to various diseases, showing that these bacteria seem to be somehow manipulating how we express and manage different diseases and overall health. Researchers at the American Gut Project (http://humanfoodproject.com/americangut/) are helping to fill in the gaps by collecting gut samples from around the world and finding associations with different diseases, diet and lifestyle habits, creating a wealth of global data to explore.
Diet is a critical tool not just for good health, but for making significant positive changes to your gut microbiome. In particular, a fiber, known as resistant starch (which you may have heard us talk about many times by now), can be a big help in changing your composition favourably.
Alongside an unhealthy diet, taking medications such as antibiotics can significantly upset the delicate balance of our bacterial occupiers. Broad spectrum antibiotics having the greatest effects, while the more specific narrow spectrum antibiotics affect far fewer strains, although still often not as specifically as we would like, with some of the good guys also suffering from the "friendly fire". Antibiotic use has in fact been shown to sometimes permanently change the gut ecology. Nonetheless, the beneficial bacteria which colonise our bowels often recover reasonably well from exposure to antibiotics, when they are well fed on the good-bug-buffet of soluble fibre and resistant starches found in fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. And for many, topping up your good bacteria following antibiotic use is becoming the norm. We've been encouraging this recolonisation for three decades, and now, it seems you'd now be hard-pressed to find a GP or pharmacist that won't suggest a course of probiotics following antibiotics. Or indeed, one who isn't aware of the potential benefits of probiotics long-term, simply for a better microbiome.
But are probiotics all the same? We get asked this so often. There are many forms - capsules, powders, drinks - different names, different dosing and quantities, some need to be kept in fridge, some not, and their labelling is often different from brand to brand, so it can be hard to make a good decision. Grabbing the cheapest, first you see on the shelf is not necessarily the right advice for the condition you are trying to get help with.
Some probiotics combine a long list of different species within, which for the uninitiated, looks like a great purchase. Wow, there are so many in here that it must be good! Just because there are 10 or more types, does not mean they will all make up a happy home within your gut!
Some label their dosages in milligrams, rather than in colony-forming-units (CFU's), as they should. A label that says you have 250mg of one type of bacteria is impossible to compare to a label that says you have 25 billion CFU's (colony forming units) of the same bacteria, without going back to manufacturer to find out how many CFU's are in each milligram, something that few members of the public would ever bother to do. The former may sound bigger, but it's being labelled purely on weight and if few CFU's actually grew in this batch, you could be paying for very little. A label that tells the actual amount of the bacteria is a better bet, as you want a product that contains these little microbes, not lots of potential nothing-ness. I am skeptical of any company that doesn't state the CFU's on their label. If the CFU's were good, they'd label accordingly!
Are you getting what you pay for? Now this is a tricky one. Australia's laws around supplements (probiotics included) are not known for being great in quality assurance and labelling control. You've (hopefully) read the articles around the lack of quality control on so many supplements that we've written previously. The probiotics we recommend have samples from each batch stored and tested regularly after being subjected to varying temperatures over months. So expiry dates on labels can be adjusted accordingly to ensure the label is correct at time of expiry. They always arrive packed and transported under refrigeration (which is not a standard requirement). Probiotics are live organisms and need to be kept in the fridge to keep them from becoming active in the bottle, and starting to die off. Non-refrigerated probiotics may be more 'convenient' but your bacteria may be dead.
Know your strain. Lastly and probably most importantly, probiotic supplements typically detail the genus and species (such as Lactobacillus acidophilus), although many do not describe the STRAIN of bacteria, which has significant relevance for the particular biological actions of the bacteria. Using the example of lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM; lactobacillus is the genus, acidophilus is the species, whilst the strain is NCFM. Large variations and responses can occur with different strains, even within species. The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (http://isappscience.org ) have reported the need for all probiotics to include strains on labelling, however it is not common-place.
Consumers sadly can also be duped by some food companies, that create 'sciency-sounding' trade names for their products, like bifidus regularis or bifidus digestivum found in yoghurts. It is made to sound like a species, when it's actually entirely fictional. This is not to say don't eat yoghurt. We have a bowl every night - just that yoghurt is classed as a food and whilst it has plenty of health benefits, it's not intended to supply a therapeutic probiotic strain.
As a cautionary note, even the best manufactured, best quality probiotic may not be appropriate for certain high-risk, immune compromised people. Professional advice before self-prescribing is highly recommended for this vulnerable group.
What motivates you to be healthy?
Most people have one or two health priorities that they focus on (such as obesity, polycystic ovaries, diabetes, high cholesterol, allergies, infections). Along for the ride can come a list of seemingly unrelated symptoms (headaches, fatigue, bowel troubles, sore joints, insomnia and so on). Whilst they may not seem related, they often are, and can become chronic or long-term. Co-morbidities (having more than one condition at the same time) is increasingly common as we age. Chronic illnesses can take decades to develop and just addressing the tip of the ice-berg does little to halt its progression.
Encouragingly, most chronic diseases are preventable or manageable by adhering to a combination of personalised healthy lifestyle and eating plans, along with regular exercise and tailored nutritional support. This is not to say we don?t need pharmaceuticals from time to time, but we are now facing an epidemic of chronic diseases that are very much life-style driven. Yes, research has confirmed that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Whilst prevention of disease is often not on the priority list of those without disease, it is worth remembering that ?good health? is not simply the ?absence of disease?. By simply moving toward a preventative approach, the quality of your wellbeing can improve dramatically.
Does your fish oil measure up?
A study was published recently showing that not all fish oils are what they appear to be. Researchers looked at 32 brands of retail fish oils and measured them for correct labeling/dosing as well as oxidation. When you leave your butter out on the bench-top on a warm day, jt becomes exposed to heat and oxidises, turning rancid and needs to be thrown out. (If you keep eating it, don?t!).
Similarly, fish oil is highly prone to oxidation because of the high number of double bonds it contains. If you take a fish oil for its well-researched anti-inflammatory and cardiovascular benefits it needs to be doing the job intended.
This study examined 32 brands (from both Australia and New Zealand) although no specific brands were named. Of the 32 brands, just 3 came close to containing what the label said. From a health point of view, however, a huge 33 out of 36 brands exceeded international recommendations for maximum levels of oxidation.
Oxidised fish oil is not something you would intentionally take ? the $10 bargain bulk buy from the health-food shop, pharmacy or supermarket becomes not such a good bargain after all??
This is why we choose to only recommend the products we use ? we see quality-control as imperative to your health and to our results - fish oil is just one example. Our fish oils have impurities removed (well above Australian standards), undergo nitrogen flushing (to prevent oxidation and rancidity) and they are concentrated (so they do work therapeutically). We can request specific batch assays at anytime, a request we?ve had ignored by many other manufacturing companies. Each batch is tested along many stages of the manufacturing process as well as numerous stages after, to ensure dosing remains as per label until after expiry date. To read more, click here. Fish oils offer many benefits, but the benefits are only in a good clean product. Otherwise, it becomes simply a waste of money.
June 2014 - We've just returned from the International Congress on Natural Medicine in Sydney.
Congress: we?ve listened to another fantastic group of researchers and clinicians on topics around the gut microbiome, functional detoxification and its role in metabolic disorders (obesity, CVD, diabetes). Once again, we were privileged to be invited to dinner with the presenters and have the opportunity to ask questions. Due to requests, we?ve tried to summarize some of our highlights:
Prof Marc Cohen: a wealth of knowledge from RMIT . According to the World Health Organisation more than 60% of deaths are caused by lifestyle related chronic diseases. Of those we can change are inactivity, diet (sugar, salt, fat, alcohol and tobacco) and environmental toxins. Prof Cohen presented studies on chemical cocktails that we are all exposed to every day, their bioaccumulation across a lifetime and those in our society most vulnerable (children!)
Dr Michael Stone and Dr Kristy Hughes: spoke on comprehensive assessments of patients with environmental exposures. Understanding the how and when of detoxification always starts with the right assessment and tailored suggestions. There should be no 'one-size-fits-all' to detoxing properly.
Dr Eleanor Rogan: spoke to us about her teams? research into the role of endogenous and environmental oestrogens in the initiation of human cancers, in particular breast cancer. Loved it!
Dr Larry Robinson: discussed his teams? research behind one of the ingredients in a product we use in clinic (can?t disclose name). Daily use not only had positive effects on the gut microbiota (significance to health not to be underestimated!) but also significant reduction in inflammatory markers, seasonal allergies, colds and flu?s and arthritis.
Dr Sue Shephard: the celebrity among the international dietetics/gastro world for her development of the FODMAP diet for relief of irritable bowel. Sue walked us through the implementation and correct use of her program. Lucky Jeremy got to sit next to her at dinner and really pick her brains!
Dr Gerard Mullin: a gastroenterologist from John Hopkins who spoke on the pathology and management of Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD). He discussed the varying presentations of gastro symptoms, the use (and abuse) of long-term antacids for symptom relief and how he achieves results in clinical practice. He was a fantastic (and fast) speaker.
And that was day one! Needless to say, we?ve come back enthused and importantly, added to and fine-tuned our knowledge to better help you and your health.
Vitamin A is one of our fat-soluble vitamins essential for foetal development in pregnancy, sperm production, immune function, cell growth and differentiation, gene expression as well as for our vision. It can be eaten in 2 forms. Firstly, retinol, from animal sources such as meats, fish, milk, butter and eggs and secondly, as a precursor form (which includes the well known antioxidant betacarotene) found in dark green leafy vegies, deep orange fruits and vegies (think spinach, broccoli, apricots, pumpkin, squash, carrots, sweet potato and pumpkin)
Iced Coffee Frappe
For the coffee lovers.....
Combine 1 shot coffee, 3-4 ice-blocks, 1/2 scoop of whey protein (I made mine with Shake-It Extra for its added creamy texture with low calories!), 100ml skimmed milk and 100ml of cool water. Blend to crush the ice well and enjoy. (Less than 100 calories in total)
This time of year is perfect for beautiful healthy salads with a BBQ.
- 1/2 tin four bean mix and
- 1 cup of juicy watermelon (cubed).
If you have some chocolate mint growing in your herb garden, it also tastes great. No dressing required. Simply, quick, refreshing and light - especially on a hot summer evening.
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