“Let thy food be thy medicine”

With the changes of the seasons, people can become susceptible to catching a cold or flu. It is important to take extra vitamin C and vitamin B-complex, to maintain a strong immune system. In the Southern Hemisphere we are slowly but surely getting ready for cold nights, while our “neighbours” in the Northern Hemisphere is getting ready for sunny days.

Wherever you find yourself, here are a few home-made recipes
(by Jason Vale, the UK’s “juice master” and Daniel Jardim, South African nutritionist and cook) for banishing a sore throat, flu- / cold symptoms and body aches; for good!

J’M Sip

Ingredients

1 Golden delicious apple

3 cm chunk fresh ginger root

Method

Juice the apple, ginger and ½ medium lemon (unwaxed).

Pour ½ of it into a mug and top with hot (but not boiling) water.

Add 1 tsp of Manuka honey, stir well and enjoy!

Hot toddy

Ingredients for the basic brew

750ml water

½ cup ginger, washed and sliced

4 to 5 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 garlic cloves, whole

For each cup

2 tbsp lemon juice

1tsp raw honey

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Method

Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil.

Simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Place the lemon, honey and cayenne pepper in a cup for each serving, then strain the tea into the cup and stir until the honey has dissolved.

Enjoy!

Cough syrup

Ingredients

1 turnip, thinly sliced

¼ cup raw honey or brown sugar

Method

Layer a few slices of turnip in a bowl, then sprinkle with sugar or drizzle with honey.

Repeat the layers and allow it to stand for at least 4 hours (the honey or sugar will draw out the expectorant juices).

Take 2 teaspoons of syrup every 1 – 2 hours until the symptoms

Mustard bath

Ingredients

¼ cup English mustard powder

½ cup coarse sea salt

½ cup bicarbonate of soda

Method

Combine all the ingredients and place it in an airtight container.

Use ¼ cup of the mixture in a bath – soak for 10 to 15 minutes.

Please note that if symptoms persist and get worse, see a practitioner!

Inflammation: what to do

In one of my previous blogposts, I explained what is inflammation, why it happens and which signals to look for with regards to acute and/or chronic inflammation.

In this post I will discuss what can be done to minimize and/or heal the body in an easy, natural way.  I am not saying that anti-inflammatory medication and ointments are not worth a try; I just want to add a bit more to your “medicine cupboard” and am sure you’ll be surprised to read about some things that you find in your kitchen that will help!

So, what can one do?  First of all, it is important to keep your body, mind and emotions in balance.  Getting rid of stress is extremely important, as is diet and lifestyle.  What you eat, what you drink, not smoking (or quitting), and exercising (whether going to a gym, for a walk, a jog, cycling, etc), and managing your thoughts.  There are two age old sayings to keep in mind:

“Your thoughts become your words; your words become your actions; your actions become your deeds and your deeds become your destiny”; and “It is not what happens, but how we respond (react) to what has happened that matters!” Not always easy, but worth a try!

Looking at diet and exercise:  try to avoid highly processed foods and carbohydrates as far as possible, as well as trans fats, fried foods, sugar and sugar substitutes.  For allergies and/or sensitivities, stay clear of gluten, wheat, dairy (especially margarine) and opt for free range and/or organic meats.  Add food to your diet that fights inflammation:  olive oil, herbs and spices (especially turmeric / bromelain, ginger, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, thyme and rosemary).  Fresh fruits and vegetables that contain high levels of antioxidants and flavonoids, for example blueberries, tomatoes, spinach and broccoli.  Eat half of a fresh papaya or pineapple daily.  Papaya contains papain and pineapple contains bromelain (both enzymes help to reduce swelling and inflammation).  Add fresh water fish to your diet, for example herring, mackerel, salmon and sardines (they supply essential fatty acids).  A supplement of Omega 3-oil is also good; as is extra virgin olive oil.

Try to use less and/or stay clear of chemicals like sprays, insect repellents, cigarette smoke, alcohol and recreational drugs; especially when you have chronic inflammation.  These days there are many organic, natural products on the market to choose from.  Limit and/or avoid if possible, saturated fats and too much salt in your diet, as well as processed- and ready-made foods (both often have hidden sugars, salts and other preservatives in).  Soft drinks and white flour (refined starches) should also be limited and/or avoided all together.

Why?  “Because they cause overactivity in the immune system, which can lead to joint pain, fatigue, and damage to the blood vessels,” says Scott Zashin, MD, clinical professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre in Dallas.

Exercise regularly – not too strenuous exercises (especially if you have chronic inflammation like arthritis) and not in excess.  Walking, cycling at a comfortable pace, swimming, Water Aerobics, Pilates and Yoga are all good to keep the body moving and to lubricate the joints.  Another great way to exercise and rid the body of toxins is called Rebounding.  You can either sit on a Pilates ball or use a mini trampoline.  When using the latter, make sure to keep your knees bent at all times and you can / not lift your feet up.  In a future article I will discuss Rebounding in more detail.

Have “an attitude of gratitude” and watch your thoughts!  Negative thoughts and feelings can contribute to stress and, in turn, inflammation.  Make time to relax:  meditate, do yoga, breathe deeply and slowly, sit outside in nature without the phone / laptop distracting you, just “be in the moment” and listen to the birds.  Make sure you get at least 7 – 8 hours of sleep each night.  The less sleep you get over a period of time, the more chance for your immune system to get depleted, thus you become ill and struggle to cope with life in general.

Quick and easy ways to add some inflammation-fighters to your diet:

  • Mix 5ml ground turmeric (non-radiated if possible) with ¼ cup of hot water, ¼ cup coconut milk and 5ml raw honey (the latter can be excluded if anyone is allergic).  Raw or ground ginger and/or cinnamon can also be added.
  • Mix ¼ – ½ teaspoon turmeric with ¼ – ½ teaspoon cinnamon and swallow it with some water. 
  • Sprinkle some turmeric and cinnamon over your porridge / muesli, or mix it into your tea / coffee.
  • Make a poultice of turmeric, ginger and/or cinnamon and place it under a running tap when taking a bath or shower.

Turmeric, Cinnamon, Ginger, Garlic, Cayenne Pepper and Honey – everyday items in most kitchens!   

Turmeric (also known as Quercetin), is a spice that is used in many dishes and has a ‘secret’ ingredient called curcumin that can heal many aches, pains and ailments.  The 3 chemicals (curcuminoids or curcumin) is what researchers have found boost the immune system and reduce inflammation. They also established that curcumin helps to ease the severity of autoimmune diseases; many of which are mediated by inflammatory responses. Try to use the turmeric root or turmeric powder that has not been radiated.

Cinnamon – research indicates that this spice takes the first place when it comes to its antioxidant-levels.  Research indicated that there are over 7 kinds of flavonoid compounds and together with the antioxidant-compounds, it fights oxidative stress in the body (which can lead to disease formation when uncontrolled; especially as we age).  It is very beneficial in pain management too and it is also a natural antibiotic, antibacterial, anti-microbial, anti-fungal and anti-viral agent.  Studies show that it lowers inflammation and swelling, muscle soreness, PMS pains, severity of allergic reactions and skin disorders, and age-related symptoms.  Cinnamon increases blood circulation and advances the bodily tissue’s ability to repair itself after it has been damaged.  Interestingly it includes the heart tissue (that needs regeneration to help fight heart attacks, heart disease and stroke). 

Ginger – a powerful anti-inflammatory and a natural painkiller.  Not only good for the digestive system and to relieve nausea; it also helps with sinus and tension headaches.  Research has found that ginger extract can be as effective as over-the-counter painkillers in treating osteoarthritis (commonly known as arthritis).  When using Ginger- and Orange oil together in a massage, for example, it can reduce knee pain and stiffness.

Garlic – another anti-inflammatory, natural antibiotic used in many cultures.  It can help to reduce swelling, inhibit and kill bacteria and viruses, is an immune booster and antioxidant.  It also stimulates the lymphatic system (the body’s “waste basket”) that is necessary to excrete waste and toxins from the body.

Cayenne pepper (capsaicin), is used to treat arthritis, pain, gastrointestinal disorders and certain types of cancer. Used as a cream or a taken as supplement, it also has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Please note that people who are sensitive to spicy / hot foods should rather not use cayenne pepper and, if taking certain medications, consult your health practitioner first, as it can interfere with some medicines.

Honey – used for many years, contains anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal-properties, and is also high in antioxidants. It not only helps the body internally, but is also used topically to heal wounds and reduces infection.  And old recipe for a sore throat is to drink warm water with added honey and/or lemon.  Do remember if you or anybody else is allergic to honey, to use one of the above-mentioned spices instead or exclude honey from your drink.

Important are vitamin- and mineral-supplements.  A good multivitamin, vitamin B-complex, Calcium and Magnesium (combined and at night as the body absorbs calcium better), Omega 3’s, Vitamins C, D and E, Alfalfa, Silica and Selenium.

Probiotics is also vital for keeping the gut flora stabilized and balanced (especially during / after an operation, when taking antibiotics and other medication that can interfere with the gut flora, and when under stress). Probiotics can be found in yogurt, but you can also buy it in powder-form or as tablets, for example A. Vogel’s Alkaline Powder and Reuteri’s probiotic tablets for adults and children.  Interestingly to note is that Vogel’s powder has been scientifically proven to help reduce arthritis-symptoms if taken on a regular basis. 

Researchers agree that these spices, and other food sources, can help to keep us healthy, assist our gut flora and keep our immune systems strong, while fighting off free radicals and illnesses.

Take care, stay in balance and enjoy life!

Does being healthy mean being boring?

Many people struggle to keep to a healthy eating plan and/or exercise- routine; not because they are lazy or not trying hard enough, but because of outside pressure.  Why?  Well; have you ever been out for lunch or went to a dinner, where there is nothing for vegetarians?  Or have you ever been frowned upon when you say you don’t drink alcohol or eat shell fish, for example?

Eating healthy can, at times, be a bit of a struggle, especially if you follow a strict diet.  That is why I, personally, don’t believe in diets per se, but rather eating from all the food groups; just in moderation from some of the groups, like refined sugars and starch. 

Being healthy and living a healthy life should be a lifestyle; it should not be seen as a diet, or a quick fix, or an effort / burden.  Making small changes can, in the long run, bring great results to you and your family.  Swopping eating pizzas / burgers every week, for example, to eating it once a month, will not only save you money, but it will also reduce your waistline!

There are many people that says that fuzzy drinks without the sugars are ok, and there are many others who says that fuzzy drinks, with or without sugars, are bad.  The big difference is that instead of using sugar to sweeten it, they use artificial sweetening, colouring and other chemicals, which is not good for your health – just like too much sugar.  Did you know, for example, that there are 9 teaspoons of sugar in Lipton Ice Tea?  And even more in Coke?  And have you ever wondered why McDonald’s chips are so delicious?  It’s because they add sugar to it! 

From the above examples it is clear that sugar is one of the big culprits when it comes to our health.  The verdict is not yet finalized on fructose (natural sugars found in fruits).  However, I believe natural is the way to go.  However, if you do use sugar (in your coffee or when you cook or bake something), it is ok.  The key is MODERATION!

Whether you like to have a cheat meal once a month or treat yourself to an ice-cream or cappuccino with cream, do it in moderation.  Our society has become laid-back; it is far quicker and easier to walk into a shop, buy your prepacked meal, warm it up and eat it, than it is to make something yourself.  However, even many of the healthier options, have added sugars, salts, preservatives, and so forth, in order to last longer on the shelves.  Not only will it be a good idea to read the labels first, but also to start cooking and preparing your own meals again – at least then you’ll know what goes into it.  This way, you can start reducing the amounts of extra sugars, salts and preservatives in your diet, and start replacing junk food with more healthier options.  The internet and bookshops are full of lovely recipe-books and recipes.  Just open any magazine today and you’re sure to find a quick and easy recipe that is healthy and yummy at the same time. You can also make it a family-activity; get the kids to help you with peeling and/or chopping the veggies, for example. If time is a problem during the week, why not cook in bulk over the weekend and freeze it for the week ahead?

Healthy doesn’t mean boring and it shouldn’t sound and feel like a burden; if your mindset is right, then it is easier to start making these changes. Step-by-step you and your family can become more healthy and have more energy for those busy days. If you don’t eat a certain foodstuff or don’t drink alcohol, for example, then do so and be happy – regardless of what other people think or say.  After all; it is your body and you have to look after you!

Here are a few examples, some I’m sure you already know:

Swop milk chocolate for dark chocolate;

Swop white bread for whole wheat, rye or brown bread;

Swop fizzy drinks for fruit juice, homemade ice tea or natural flavoured water without the fizziness (add strawberries, mint or lemon to your boiled / tap water);

Swop chips / crisps for salads, nuts, dried fruit and vegetables;

Swop a ready-made burger or pizza with a homemade one.

All in all, health is the new wealth…so why not start today and make some changes if you haven’t already?!  Give it a go, keep going, even if it gets tough, and you’ll reap the rewards in no time!  Good luck!

Inflammation – what is it exactly and signals to look out for

All of us have bumped our knee, cut a finger, sprained an ankle, and so forth, some time or other.  Inflammation sets in when the body is facing an assault of harmful stimuli, for example toxins from a cut finger, pathogens like bacteria and viruses when you have a cold or flu, or other irritants such as allergens.

When you hurt yourself or have an allergic reaction, your body and immune system rush in with leukocytes and plasma proteins (antibodies), to fight the infection and repair the damaged cells.

Thus, when you bump your knee or twist your ankle, the injured part swells and/or becomes red.  Heat and/or immobility can also be visible.  This is the inflammation setting in as a form of protecting and healing the injured part of the body by itself.

Sometimes inflammation can persist longer than usual, which can cause other problems – more about it in the next paragraphs.

Acute inflammation happens when your body triggers an inflammatory response on a short-term basis.  This usually lasts for a couple of hours or a few days as the body aims to resolve the issue as fast as possible and allow the tissue to return to normal (homeostasis).

Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, happens when the body fails to “turn off” the inflammation signal and, like a slow-burning fire, it keeps stimulating the body’s pro-inflammatory immune cells that can also attack healthy parts of the body.

In the modern world chronic inflammation is stimulated by lifestyle, poor diet, lack of exercise, stress and the quality and quantity of sleep.  Due to these factors, our body does not have the ability any longer to turn off the inflammatory response and healthy tissue starts to be attacked as the body is trying to fight off all these unhealthy stimuli that is forced onto it each day.

Due to all of this many people develop autoimmune diseases as the chronic inflammation interferes with the natural anti-inflammatory processes within the body, for example balancing the cortisol-hormone.  Cortisol’s function is to reduce inflammation in the body, which supresses the immune system over time.  Inflammatory cells are powerful; their job is to attack invaders before they can harm the body and they produce a constant, low-grade flow of strong inflammatory markers into the blood stream that causes damage over time.

Once the body’s balance has been disrupted the immune system’s inflammatory hyperactivity can self-perpetuate and, unchecked, it leads to many illnesses, for example heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and even cancer and Alzheimer’s. 

Chronic inflammation can manifest in various ways:

Chronic fatigue, Mouth sores, Abdominal, chest or joint pain, Rash or skin conditions (for example eczema and lupus), Fever, Digestive issues for example constipation or diarrhoea (stomach ulcers are 99% caused by long-term stress that causes chronic inflammation), High blood glucose levels, Weight gain, especially around the midriff, Signs of depression or increased anxious behaviour, Increase in allergies and/or food sensitivity.

If this rings a bell ask your doctor to measure your C-reactive protein level (a marker for inflammation) and start making the necessary changes today!

The wonders and importance of water

Humans can survive for 3 – 4 weeks without food, but only 3 – 4 days without water.  Studies have shown that, in certain conditions, people can survive for a week without water.  This, however, depends on the climate, the person’s age and overall health.  The human body is made up of between 70 – 80% water.  Water is important for many reasons.  It keeps the joints lubricated, helps to keep body temperature regulated by sweating and respiration, helps the kidneys and liver to flush out bodily waste from the body, forms saliva, and so forth.

Did you know that water also helps the body’s cells to maintain their form?  It dissolves salts, sugars, proteins and other substances involved in the digestion and metabolism of food.  It also enables the transportation of chemicals around the body, like glucose.  We are constantly losing water – going to the bathroom, sweating (perspiring) and even when we exhale!  Prof. Packer (from the George Washington University), found that, under extreme conditions, an adult can lose 1 to 1.5 litres of sweat per hour.  He also said that, if the lost water is not replaced, the total volume of body fluid can fall quickly and blood volume may drop (the latter is very dangerous).  If there is too little blood circulating in the body, blood pressure drops to levels that can be fatal.  Important to remember is that, when we stop sweating, our body temperature rises. 

Another study by the University of Rochester Medical Centre, indicates that if dehydration / a loss of more than 10% of the person’s body weight, is a medical emergency.  If this is not reversed and treated urgently, it can lead to death.  An interesting observation is that very mild dehydration can slow down the body’s metabolism with as much as 3%, a 2%-drop in the body’s water can trigger fuzzy short-term memory, trouble staying focused and basic arithmetic. 

There are many benefits for drinking water – from feeling cooler on a hot day, to having a less ‘tight’ skin, and you’ll look and feel younger!  Most experts agree that you need to drink between 8 – 10 glasses of water per day.  Drinking enough water not only eases back and joint pain (as valuable nutrients are carried via the synovial fluid to the cartilages); 5 glasses of water a day can reduce colon cancer risk by up to 45%.

The jury is not yet in agreement on filtered (distilled) vs unfiltered (undistilled) water; and bottled or not bottled water.  Many argue that minerals are lost when filtered / distilled.

However, scientifically this is impossible.  Filtered / distilled water enhances the body’s mineral absorption rate, other nutrients, and improves elimination of body waste at cellular level.

And then there is the question of bottled water…

The main thing, before buying the water, is to make sure where the water comes from.  it is convenient, but can become expensive to buy (especially for a household of 2 / more people).  Why not just boil your water before drinking it?

Another factor to consider is:  is the plastic bottles good for the environment?  Especially as many people still do not recycle?  In South Africa alone 1.2 trillion plastic bottles are produced per year!  Many producers opt to use BPA-free plastic, but there are other endocrine-disrupting-chemicals that filter through if exposed to heat or stands too long on the shelf.  So, opt for a glass bottle instead (or a gym-bottle that can be reused).

On a lighter note, if you think you are hungry but not too sure, instead of reaching for the biscuit tin, why not drink a glass of water first?  Wait for 15 minutes to see if you were really hungry or not.  Often dehydration is mistaken for hunger; a headache and daytime fatigue are often signs of dehydration.  And thirst?  That is a sign that you are already starting to dehydrate!

Lastly; if you don’t like the taste of water, add a slice of lemon, mint leaves, strawberries or other berries, to flavour it.  This is not only a healthier option but has less artificial sugars and other substances in to flavour the water.

So; let us all raise a glass to mother nature and drink our water!  Cheers!! 

Yoga… Pilates…or both?

Ever wondered what the difference and similarities are between Yoga and Pilates? Honestly, not much, except that the one is done much slower and static than the other.

Let me explain.

Yoga (the oldest exercise-routine to date), is a form of stretching and strengthening in a quiet, peaceful environment, where different poses are taught / worked through.  Holding a pose / being in a pose for more than a minute, is what makes Yoga different from Pilates. When you are able to relax whilst standing / balancing in a pose for a few minutes, then Yoga becomes advanced. Breathing is important when you practice yoga.  Stretching is, apart from warming-up, the other most important part of any exercise-routine.  Why?  Because your muscles contract when exercising and, if not stretched afterwards, it stays in a “spasm.”  This, in turn, can lead to stiffness, injuries, inflammation, and other related issues.

Strength-building through yoga comes when you are able to stay in a certain pose / position for more than 1 minute.

Pilates (founded by Joseph Pilates), is a combination of yoga, ballet and aerobics (the latter referring to the use of apparatus and floorwork). Originally it was seen as a rehabilitation-method, which helped the ballet dancers of the New York Ballet School, but soon more and more people came. And today there are hundreds of gyms, studios and the like, teaching Pilates.

Breathing, as in yoga, is extremely important when doing Pilates.  Every movement is done in accordance to a certain way of breathing.  This is one of the few differences between the two.   In Yoga and other exercises, one breathes abdominally.  However, in Pilates one keeps the tummy tucked-in and breathes into the lungs (as if pulling up a zip – the same way ballet dancers breathe).

Pilates-movements, like yoga, strengthen the body from the inside to the outside…once the core is strong, it creates a ripple effect to the outside muscles. 

Both Pilates and Yoga builds flexibility and suppleness, strength, awareness and helps you relax (even when the body is moving!)

Exercising more mindfully and slowly (controlled) put you in touch with your body and your breath.  Most people do not use their whole lung-capacity; in Yoga and Pilates it is vital to breathe deeply and slowly.  Very important too is to always listen to your body and do what you are capable of.

All in all, both Yoga and Pilates are great exercise-routines for everyone – including children, the elderly, injured people, pregnant ladies and yes, even men!  Did you know that the Blue Bulls and Tiger Woods practice Pilates?  And that Sting has been doing Yoga for years?

So next time you want to do something different, why not try Pilates or Yoga…or both?

One is never to old to learn something new!

Allergy or Food Intolerance? What is the difference?

More and more people are suffering from either allergy and/or food intolerances.  Many, many years ago, allergies were something alien; when a child didn’t want to eat certain foods, saying it made him feel bloated or caused a blocked nose, he was told he is “fussy.”

Years later many people’s perspectives have changed, due to more people becoming allergic or intolerant.  The internet and magazines writing about it, put these two on the map, as it were, and today it is not weird anymore if you come across someone who is allergic or has a food intolerance.

What is the difference then? 

An allergy is an abnormal reaction by the body to foreign substances, called allergens.  Once they enter the body, the body’s immune system detects it and produces an allergy-associated antibody known as Immunoglobulin E (IgE), to fight the allergens.  An allergic reaction can be sudden, but it can also build-up over time.  Examples are sneezing, wheezing, itching, developing a rash (like eczema), shortness of breath, fatigue, headaches (migraines included), hives, and a swollen tongue and/or lips, are some of the symptoms.  A sudden reaction will be swollen lips, tongue, not being able to breathe, anaphylaxis shock (the latter can be fatal). 

There are many allergens, for example, dairy products like milk and cream, peanuts, shell fish, bee stings, pollen, smoke (including second hand smoking), avocado’s, bananas, mould, dust mites, animal hair (cats and dogs), eggs, chocolate, colourings, preservatives, chemicals found in washing powders, soups and make-up, deodorant, medicine, like Penicillin, and so forth. Another trigger is also any fruit, cooldrink, medicine and the like, that is yellow / uses yellow as a colouring. Added preservatives to food and especially cooldrinks (fizzy drinks especially), can also trigger an allergic reaction.

Allergies can be tested by blood tests, elimination diets and the “arm-test” (using kinesiology).  The latter is one of the older forms of testing for allergies, but more and more doctors are using it again.  It is also easy to do – all you do is hold the food (that you suspect is causing the allergy), in your writing hand, against your body just above your naval.  Stretch out your other arm and ask a friend / partner / parent to press it gently.  You must try and resist.  If you can, then it is not the culprit.  If your arm goes down halfway, it means you should not eat / drink it regularly.  If your arm goes down all the way (and you cannot resist the gentle press), it is the culprit and should be avoided.  Speaking from experience I can assure you that this test works!

The biggest difference between allergies and food intolerances, is that allergies can be fatal.  Anaphylaxis is the most fatal, although vomiting, skin rashes (e.g. eczema), asthma and diarrhoea, can also be linked to allergies.

Food intolerances, on the other hand, is not related to the immune system.   It is not fatal but can cause bloating, constipation, tiredness, irritable bowel symptom, sneezing (hay fever) and a scratchy throat.  There are two different types:

An abnormal absorption of food, that results from an enzyme deficiency (for example lactose intolerance – caused due to a lack of the lactase enzyme – needed by the body to digest the milk sugar lactose);

A reaction caused by naturally occurring chemicals in food, e.g. tyramine and histamine, or food additives, like sulphur dioxide and benzoates.

Do not confuse cold symptoms with an allergic reaction.  Colds usually disappear in a week to 10 days. Allergic rhinitis, on the other hand, can linger for weeks; even months.  Nasal discharge from a cold start of runny, then thickens.  With an allergy it often stays runny, itches, your eyes water and/or your skin itches.  When hay fever turns into sinusitis, your nose can become blocked and feel stuffy all the time.

Another interesting fact about allergies and intolerances is that adults can also develop it (even if they’ve never been allergic or intolerant in their early years). The sulphurs used in wine can trigger it, food, animals, pollen, pollution and even stress. Some can also develop IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) after an operation; especially in the abdomen and/or small or large intestine.

Growing up with allergies, I can assure you that life wasn’t always easy; especially because not many people understood what it really meant to be allergic. However, I was lucky to outgrow most of it and today I simply avoid what I still cannot consume and live a healthy, active life! I also believe that it is best – in the long-term – to treat the cause and not just the symptom. So, instead of only relying just on anti-histamine tablets to supress the symptoms, why not see a homeopath / naturopath for a second opinion? All the homeopaths in South Africa has got medical background as well, so you do get “the best of both,” so to speak.

All in all; remember to wear a MedicAlert-bracelet if you are highly allergic (especially to Penicillin).  If you are not sure, consult a doctor or your health practitioner.

Lastly; many food intolerances can be / are outgrown, but some allergies not; so just make sure you know the difference and plan your meals, and so forth, accordingly.

Meditation / mindfulness

To meditate (or become still), is a simple way of “shutting down” the little voice in your head.  It is to become still, to connect with your inner self, higher self and Divinity / God / Spirit.  There are many people for it and many people against it.  Whether you spend your quiet time in nature, in your room, at a spa or in a sacred space, meditation has proven time and time again that it has a tremendous positive impact on a person.

Scientists have proven that, when you are meditating, you go into a state of “semi-sleep.”  This not only slows down your heart-rate, but also lowers your stress-levels, as the breathing becomes deeper and slower.  Regular meditation can, over time, help you to get by with less sleep (up to an hour a day) and still have more than enough energy for the day ahead.

Meditation is not a religion.  However, for those who are sceptic about it, in the Bible it says that one should go within and become still.  It is a time, for me, to connect with Divinity / Spirit within, to relax, get rid of stress, and just be. 

In a recent newspaper-article I read that meditation, yoga and dance, are now being taught in more-and-more schools in South Africa (something that has been done for a number of years overseas), to help the young children to cope with the everyday violence that they see (especially in the areas where gang-violence is rife).  It is also being taught in various prisons locally as well as internationally; and studies have shown that crime, violence and aggression, have dropped tremendously. In the modern world meditation is also called mindfulness.  Both are wonderful ways to not just calm down and become still, but also to get in touch with the inner self and Divinity.

Not only is it fantastic to help you cope better with what life throws at you, but it will also show in your face and skin.  Stress, as we all know, plays havoc on our skin.  When you make time to meditate, you not only learn how to breathe better and sleep better, but on a physical level, your skin will glow.

Meditation / mindfulness is a simple, easy-to-learn way of “shutting down” the buzz in our heads.  In today’s world, where everything is fast pace, one loses touch with not just oneself sometimes, but also with loved-ones and nature.  Even if you just do it for 20 minutes a day (maybe 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes before sleeping), you will sooner, rather than later, start to notice the changes. 

A simple, easy way to relax and become still, is to switch off all devices, close your eyes and just take slow, deep breathes in and out. You can use soft music in the background or just listen to nature (if possible). When your mind is busy, relax and just imagine your thoughts are like a movie script. It comes into your mind / sight, and it goes out. Breathing deeply and slowly, you can “tell” yourself to relax each and every part of the body, for example as you inhale, contract your leg muscles and as you exhale, consciously relax them, and so forth. Another simple and easy way to relax is to use visualization. You can either focus on a colour and “imagine” inhaling it in, be surrounded by it, and engage all your senses: smell, taste, touch. Or you can visualize sitting on the beach, listening to the waves. There are many apps that you can also download to listen to, as well as YouTube-channels that will guide you through the meditation.

At the end of the day, meditation is a way to become still, more focused (mindful) and to relax at a deep level. “Be still my heart and know that I am God.”

Breathing is life

We start life in this world by drawing our first breath and exhaling it (usually) with a cry!

Breathing is considered the most important of all the functions of the body because all the other functions depend upon it.  A person can exist several days without food, fewer days without drinking but only minutes without breathing.

Because respiration is an automatic function and takes care of itself, it is considered unnecessary to do anything about it.  The result is that today most people only breathe enough to keep them alive.  Their breathing is so shallow that they are using only about a quarter of their lung capacity.

The breath that consists mainly of oxygen permeates every cell in the body and is the force for the renewal and revitalizing of every cell.  Therefore, by breathing more fully and deeply not only do you improve your health but also the quality of your life.

Although inhalation and exhalation is done spontaneously, it can be controlled consciously.  Conscious, deep breathing should not be too difficult to do for one do it without being aware of it – it takes place while you sleep!  By practicing deep breathing consciously we will become aware of our breathing and hopefully better it.

So, when you inhale, let your ribs expand sideways – starting from the bottom up.  The diaphragm will move down and the belly will rise slightly so as to increase the lung capacity.  The entire inhalation should be done gently and effortlessly.  With the exhalation you use a slight pressure to push the complete air out; by pulling the belly slightly back.

“Discover your lungs” by practicing deep breathing whenever you get a chance; for example waiting in a queue, in the car and especially before you go to sleep.  By practicing deep breathing we not only oxygenate our brains and clear our minds but we also improve the blood circulation and the functioning of the immune system.

Breath and emotions are also closely linked:  when we are frightened we gasp in and hold our breath; when tired or bored, we take a long breath in and out – we yawn; when angry our breath is irregular and when tense of full of worries we breathe shallow.  But it is possible to reduce the effect of emotional turbulence by bringing the breath under control by breathing more evenly and deeply.  This will calm the nerves and steady the mind.  We are not only dependent on our breath for life.

Our capacity to breathe well will often determine our vitality level.  Be being present energetically we can affect our everyday life and “embrace the blessing we have received.”  Through the ages different kinds of breathing exercises have been used to attain specific results.  This will be discussed at a later stage.

With winter still not over, maybe we could practise a warming breath in order to beat the cold:

Take a deep breath in and breathe out forcefully, contracting the abdominal muscles.  Immediately breathe in again with the same force, expanding the abdominal muscles.  Continue for 10 breathes.  This is one round.  Repeat 3 – 5 rounds.

Living somewhere where it is warm, sometimes hot and/or humid? Then try the cooling breath: curl your tongue up into a little flute / pipe and slowly inhale and exhale!

Breath is life; taking care of our lungs and breathing at full capacity, is not just a great way to carry oxygen to all the organs, cells, blood vessels and muscles, but is vital to maintain optimum lung functioning.

So go on; stay warm or cool just by breathing!

Taking care of our furry- and feathery friends during winter

Wintertime is not just a time when humans struggle with dry skin.  Our furry friends can also struggle with it during the winter.  So…what to do?

First of all, make sure there is enough drinking water for your pets, as well as for the birds, bees and other insects outside.  This, of course, only applies if you’re living somewhere where it is dry in winter; not where it is raining 😉 If you don’t have space for a bird bath, place a bowel or basin with fresh water outside.

Secondly; add some oil to your pets’ food.  A tablespoon of sunflower oil or olive oil will keep their digestive tract going.  It is also a wonderful and important addition to their diet that will keep their skin soft, their hair shiny and prevent their skin from drying out during these cold months.

Thirdly; make sure your pets eat a healthy, balanced meal.  Don’t forget the birds though!  Spare some breadcrumbs and/or mealiepap and/or fruit for our feathery friends too!  Food is very scarce at this time of the year – especially in the urban areas where there are not many fruit and berry trees left.

Lastly – if you find ants in your kettle, don’t be upset.  Place a small plate of water on the kitchen counter and violà!  No more ants climbing into the kettle to look for water! After all, big or small, hairy, feathery or not, everybody needs more water and oil during the winter months!