Health-risks that affect men

In this article I want to look at some of the most common cancers that affect men; not to scare anybody, but to bring awareness.

  • Breast cancer

In men, breast cancer cells’ form and grow within the breast tissue.  Although it is uncommon, 1% of men can develop this type of cancer (according to Doctor Ramiah, a specialist oncologist).

The risk factors include:  hormone treatments (e.g. taking anabolic steroids), alcohol consumption, being overweight, lack of exercise, liver disease, family history of breast cancer (not definitely but can play a role), being exposed to environmental hormones (e.g. pesticides, hormones in meat), previous radiation (especially to the chest as a child), and genes (the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene).

Symptoms to look out for:  a lump in the breast, nipple discharge, nipple pain, an inverted nipple, and/or a swollen gland under the arm (in or next to the armpit).  According to Doctor Ramiah, swelling on both sides is usually due to gynaecomastia (male breast enlargement caused by a disease or medication).  Best if you speak to your health practitioner about it.

  • Lung cancer

This is caused by abnormal growths (cells) within one or both lungs.  These cells can damage the lungs, block the airways that are needed to bring air into the lungs, and can spread to other parts of the body.

The biggest risk factor by far is tobacco smoke, vaping and e-cigarettes, as well as second hand smoke.

Symptoms to look out for:  a persistent cough, chest pain, coughing up sputum (especially discoloured or with blood in), recurring chest infections, shortness of breath (even when walking a short distance), wheezing, struggling to inhale deeply, changes in your voice, and unexplained weight loss. 

  • Prostate cancer

This is the most common cancer in men worldwide and starts in the prostate (which is the organ lying just below the urinary bladder).

Risk factors include:  ageing, ethnicity (interestingly black men have a slightly higher chance, according to research, than white men), family history of prostate cancer, and certain genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2).

Symptoms to look out for:  frequent urination, a blockage / obstruction of the urine stream / a weak stream, difficulty initiating urination, straining to empty the bladder, pain or burning when urinating, blood in the seminal fluid, and back or bone pain, unexplained weight loss and swelling of the legs (the latter symptoms are usually an indication that the prostate cancer has spread).

  • Colorectal cancer

This type of cancer can either start in the colon or rectum.  Luckily if this is caught in the early stages, it can be cured (according to Doctor Ramiah).

Risk factors include:  family history of polyps or colon cancer, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, Lynch syndrome or FAP (familial adenomatous polyposis, a high-fat, low-fibre diet, and smoking.

Symptoms to look out for:  a change in bowel habits, blood in the stool, persistent abdominal discomfort, and fatigue, weakness, nausea, vomiting and unexplained weight loss.

  • Gastric cancer

This cancer develops in the lining cells of the stomach.

Risk factors:  Helicobacter pylori infection, smoking, Pernicious anaemia, inherited cancer syndromes (e.g. FAP), Type A-blood group, and family history.

Symptoms to look out for:  decreased appetite, unexplained weight loss, abdominal discomfort and/or pain, heartburn, nausea, vomiting (with / without blood), and anaemia.

  • Liver cancer

This starts in the liver (unlike other types of cancer that starts somewhere else in the body and then spreads to the liver).

Risk factors include:  chronic infection due to the hepatitis B- or hepatitis C-virus, cirrhosis of the liver, Type-2 diabetes, Aflatoxins, high levels of alcohol-consumption (including binge drinking), and the use of anabolic steroids.

Symptoms to look out for:  pain in the top right of the abdomen, unexplained weight loss, fatigue and/or weakness, and possible jaundice.

  • Testicular cancer

These tumours start in the testes; usually in the germ cells (cells which produce immature sperm) and become cancerous.  It is not known why it becomes cancerous, but it is highly treatable.

Risk factors include:  family history, ethnicity (slightly more common in white men), and an undescended testicle.

Symptoms to look out for:  a painless lump / swelling of the testicle, pain in the testicle (with / without a lump), change in the feel of the testicle, lower abdominal pain, and the build-up of fluid in the scrotum.

  • Skin cancer

This is quite a common cancer, especially if you spend a lot of time in the sun or on a sunbed.  It is important to check your moles regularly and, if there is any change in colour or size, to seek medical help straightaway.  The same applies for skin pigmentation.  Best advice is to stay out of the sun between 11 am and 2 pm.  If you do need to be in the sun during that time, wear a hat and use sunblock.

There are different treatments for the different cancers mentioned above.  Men and boys alike should not feel or be treated differently; especially when it comes to their health.  Whenever you discover / realize that there is a change that you are not comfortable with, speak to your health practitioner or doctor as soon as possible.  It is always best to catch the cancer in its early stage and it is even more crucial to look after your body and your health from an early age.  The sooner you start, the better chance you have of not developing cancer (even if it does run in your family).

As a Nutritionist, my advice is simple:  look after your health from a young age.  When there is peer pressure that tries to get you to start smoking, to drink excessively and/or to use anabolic steroids, be different, stay strong and say no.  I know it is easier said than done – but why be like everybody else?  Numerous studies have shown that cigarette smoke, for example, kills certain cells in the lungs and the brain for good! 

Another thing to start early is exercising and eating healthy, balanced meals.  As you have read, eating more of the one food group than others and/or leaving one group out completely, might bring short-term results, but in the long-term, it is not balanced and sustainable.  Just like our bodies and organs work together as a unit, so too do we need to consume food from all the different food groups (just remember to minimize and/or eliminate processed, junk foods and refined sugars and starches), and as always, drink your water, keep your immune system strong and keep moving!!

Prebiotics or probiotics…

I am sure you all have heard, read and/or used probiotics at some point during your life.  Basically, probiotics refer to the good bacteria that resides inside your GI-tract (your gut).  Did you know that there are over 100 trillion good bacteria, 1000+ species and between 7000 – 9000 strains of these species, inside of you?  Indeed, that is something to think about!

Where does the word probiotics come from?  In Latin “Pro” means “for” and “biotic” means “life” or “bios.”  Probiotics are live microscopic organisms that reside in the GI-tract (gut) and are “pro-life.”

These good bacteria are essential as it helps the body to not only absorb the necessary nutrients from the food we eat, but it also aids in improving the immune function and supports the integrity of the intestines’ wall.  

Prebiotics refer to the non-digestible carbohydrates that trigger the growth of the good bacteria in the gut.  An example is soluble fibre inulin (found in wheat, bananas, garlic, onion, asparagus and artichokes).

Let us quickly talk about the gut.  It consists of the small and large intestine.  This is the part where energy is extracted from food, where nutrients (like vitamins and minerals) and water are absorbed, and where waste is removed (through the colon and ultimately the rectum). 

So now the big question is:  do you take probiotics or not?!  According to Doctor Mikhail (Mike) Varshavski, the average, healthy person does not need to take a supplement.  However, there are times when it is needed:

  • If you are taking / has taken antibiotics;
  • Have traveller’s diarrhoea;
  • Have antibiotic-associated diarrhoea;
  • Have ulcerative colitis or leaky gut-syndrome;
  • If a child has NEC (necrotizing enterocolitis);
  • If you are on the Pill;
  • If you are taking pain-medication;
  • If you are taking anti-inflammatory medication;
  • If you are suffering from food poisoning;
  • If you are suffering from yeast infections and/or problem skin;
  • If you are depressed or moody;
  • If you have food cravings.

From the above we can see that most of the time, when the equilibrium (balance inside the gut) has been changed, destroyed or disturbed, our body reacts in a negative way (because its natural state of balance has been disrupted). For example, if you suffer from depression or moodiness, there is a very good chance that there is trouble in the gut.  Why?  Because probiotics can increase serotonin production (the “happy” hormone that is a neurotransmitter) and 90% of it is actually made in our digestive system!    No wonder the gut is called the “second brain” by so many!  Studies have found that there is a definite connection between the gut and the mind, which influences your appetite, your emotions and your mood!  Communication between these parts of our body takes place via the brain-gut-axis and signals flow in both directions.  There is a network of neurons distributed in the gut’s wall, known as the enteric nervous system and these nerves are more than that in your spinal column!  No wonder your stomach “ties into a knot” when you are nervous or stressed and many people stop eating as well!

So, how do you keep the balance between the good and the bad bacteria in your gut?

By choosing foods rich in probiotics and making healthy choices.  For example, yoghurt, cottage cheese, buttermilk, kefir, aged cheeses, miso, tempeh, lassi, fermented foods like sauerkraut, and pickled foods, are all rich in probiotics.

Minimize and/or stay clear of refined carbohydrates (white pasta, white bread, etc), sugars (even artificial sweeteners), overuse and/or inappropriate use of antibiotics, get a good night’s sleep and get rid of stress, especially chronic or prolonged stress.  Learn to meditate, do exercises (yoga, walking, swimming, anything that will take your mind off your worries) and breathe!

Lastly; speak to your health practitioner before you start taking a supplement.  There are so many different varieties and brands to choose from that it can be overwhelming.  Look at the dates, how to store it and the CFU’s (5 billion or more is a good number), and try to use enteric-coated probiotics.

I want to end of with a quick story that I heard many years ago.  The body’s organs were arguing over who is the most important.  The lungs said “we were” for breathing; the brain said it was, because it tells the organs how and when to work, and so forth.  When the stomach said it was, all the other organs laughed…. until it started shutting down and the body started to get headaches, got thirsty, moody, depressed, constipated, bloated, and so on!

Our bodies function as a unit and no organ is more or less important than the other.  As with the prebiotics and probiotics, there must be an internal mutualism and balance in our whole body in order to survive and function optimally.

Rebounding (aka Lymphasizing)

Ever wondered why babies, instinctively, bounce? Or why do children like bouncing on a trampoline…or, heaven forbid, their beds? It is because the body wants to move and when you bounce, not only does it help to get rid of excess energy, but it is also excellent for overall muscle strength, balance (core stability), as well as aiding digestion and excretion of waste / toxins.

Let us look at it in more detail:

Rebounding is bouncing on a trampoline.  It started in the US and was developed by NASA to help the astronauts “adapt” again on earth once their mission was complete.  In outer space, unlike on earth, there is no gravity.  What they found was that astronauts struggled when they were back on Mother Earth’s soil due to the effect of gravity.

Thus, rebounding started as a way to help them, and from there it branched out to everyone in the public, as a form of exercise and rehabilitation-method.

Even sitting on a Pilates ball and bouncing does the trick (by the way…think back to your childhood when you jumped on your bed!).

Rebounding is also called lymphasizing due to the role it plays in helping the lymphatic system to function optimally (unlike the heart it doesn’t pump and needs movement to work property), as well as clearing the body of toxins.  The lymphatic system is the “waste basket” of the body and plays an important role in the elimination of toxic waste along the collecting vessels.  The rebounder multiplies the G-force (gravitational force) system by up to 300% by putting the lymphatic channels under hydraulic pressure to move fluids containing waste produce of metabolism around and out of the body through the subclavian vein.  In a nutshell; toxicity and excess mucus is cleared and the lymphatic system is able to act as the important immunity system that it is meant to be, helping the body to fight off allergies, illnesses, infections, ageing, degeneration and preventing diseases.  Without an immune system functioning at its optimum level, you will be prone to illness, allergies, aches and pains in the joints, and so forth.

The benefits of rebounding are plenty.  Here are a few:

  • It aids in weight-loss;
  • Circulates more oxygen through the body to all the cells, organs and muscles (where there is oxygen there cannot be disease);
  • Unlike many other exercise-routines, rebounding works quickly.  A recent study by NASA proved that only 20 minutes a day is necessary and gives you the same benefits as running for an hour on a treadmill.  The only (and big) difference is that bouncing has no impact on your ankles, knees and lower back.  Just keep your knees bent at all times!
  • Rebounding can be done by anybody, at any age, and by anyone who had an injury, a knee replacement, and so on.  In my Pilates-classes and as part of my rehabilitation-work, I let my members and clients bounce either on a ball or on a trampoline (regardless of their age and level of fitness); 
  • Unlike some exercises causing stiff muscles and/or pain, rebounding doesn’t because you are not working out on a hard surface that has direct impact on your joints;
  • It has been proven that just walking, marching or bouncing on the trampoline, can alleviate pain caused by arthritis and osteoporosis, as it prevents calcium loss from the spine and other major bones;
  • ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis), an immune-deficiency disorder, can also be alleviated (when your energy levels are up and lymphatic circulation works at its’ optimum level, toxins are eliminated all the time);
  • Sufferers from multiple sclerosis will also benefit, as rebounding will help them with co-ordination (as it strengthens the core muscles);
  • It calms hyperactive children (it improves concentration, focus, solving problems, relaxation and sleep);
  • Rebounding will alleviate allergies, blocked noses and sinusitis (thus respiration-capacity increases);
  • Rebounding will alleviate menstrual discomfort, fatigue, and is also safe to do when you are pregnant.  Post-natal women will benefit as well as it will strengthen the skill cells and help to get rid of skin folds;
  • As a form of aerobic exercise, it not only removes waste and cholesterol from the blood vessels (which in turn reduces blood pressure), but it also increases the elasticity of the arteries and strengthens the heart;
  • After rebounding your resting metabolic rates improves and more calories are burnt;
  • Rebounding lowers the circulating cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as blood pressure and pulse rate;
  • Low-density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol) in the blood decreases and high-density lipoprotein (good cholesterol) increases, thus cardiovascular diseases and coronary artery diseases are lessened;
  • Lastly; it boosts red blood cells, promotes tissue repair, enhances nutrient absorption, digestion and elimination processes, expands fuel storage (mitochondria count increases) in order to burn more calories hours afterwards, adds to the alkaline reserve of the body (balanced pH-levels are important; especially in the gut), tends to slow down atrophy during ageing and stabilizes the nervous system.

Dr. Gideon, member of the Olympics’ Committee, stated that regular bouncing is an ideal aerobic exercise-routine for all ages.  He added that it not only promotes and maintains a healthy mind and body, but is a safe and effective way to build strong muscles, keep the bones strong and the heart healthy. 

Rebounding has many pros. If you don’t want to bounce, you can walk / march on the spot.  When bouncing it is extremely important to keep your knees slightly bent (especially when your feet leaves the rebounder / trampoline).  You can even do sit-ups, push-ups and other types of exercises on it – it is versatile, easy to use and fun!

Do remember to always stretch afterwards and make sure to drink water.  Water helps the lymphatic system to flush out the toxins.

One last thing that I have been asked many times and that is – can the elderly and someone who cannot stand do it?  My answer is yes!  There are 2 different rebounders (mini trampolines) on the market.  One without a handle / railing to hold on to (here you can make use of a sturdy chair) and another with an added handle / railing to hold on to.

I have worked with many patients in frail- and semi-frail care, that sat in a chair / wheelchair with only their feet on the rebounder, while I gently bounced on the trampoline.

So – why not get in touch again with your inner child; get yourself a trampoline and bounce!!  It is easy, quick and very effective!  The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks and, honestly, I cannot think of one drawback in the years that I have been doing it and teaching it! 

Eye-health

More and more people suffer from red eyes and headaches related to eye strain due to computers, cellular phones and television.  In today’s modern society, it is estimated that up to 100 million workers are at risk of developing computer vision syndrome.  According to a report published in “Medical Practice and Reviews,” professionals mostly at risk of developing this syndrome are accountants, architects, bankers, engineers, flight controllers, graphic designers, journalists, academics, secretaries and students. 

What exactly is computer vision syndrome? In a nutshell; it refers to your eyes becoming blurry, tired, red, dry, itching and/or experiencing double-vision, due to spending too many hours on your computer.  This, however, is not the only symptoms.  Chronic headaches (tension headaches), lower back and neck pain and psychosocial stress, can also develop.  Don’t be fooled by the list of professionals being affected the most; as the study did not include young children and adolescents, students and millions of other people, spending hours playing computer games, socializing, and so forth.

What are the causes of computer vision syndrome?  Unlike printed words of books and newspapers, the electronic characters are made up of pixels that have blurred edges, which makes it difficult for the eyes to maintain focus.  Unconsciously, the eyes try to rest by shifting their focus to an area behind the screen, but this constant switch between the computer screen and relaxation point, creates eyestrain and fatigue. Dry, irritated eyes also occur, because you blink your eyes about 12 – 15 times, instead of the normal 17 or more times per minute.  Glare and inadequate lighting can also create problems.  To minimize this, reposition your desk if there is too much natural light coming in; if need be dim the lights of your room or move your desk light; if your laptop doesn’t have a built-in antiglare screen, get one; and lastly, wearing glare-reducing or tinted lenses can help to minimize the glare. Using good eyedrops that mimics our natural tears, will help to ease dryness; ask your optometrist which brand is good. However, don’t stop resting and taking breaks in-between; as the drops are only a temporary relief.

Extremely important is to have your eyes tested every year; children especially as their eyes change as they age.  Many, if not all, ophthalmologists suggest to adhere to the 20-20-20 rule:  every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break by looking at something that is 20 feet (6 meters) away.  Better yet; get up from your desk, go outside (if possible), make yourself something to drink and stretch your legs.  Looking at something outside without concentrating very hard can also help to relax your eyes.  Another very important thing is to make sure you wear a good pair of sunglasses with UV-protection when you are outside. 

Wearing contact lenses?  Remember to take them out (even if you wear those that you can sleep with), because oxygen cannot penetrate the eyes if you wear contact lenses for long hours at a time.  It is vital to give your eyes a rest and a break and let them “breathe;” so don’t wear your contact lenses for longer than necessary.

An interesting study suggests that, in the 80’s, 35% of Africans were near-sighted.  Three decades later it rose to 56%.  This has also been happening more and more worldwide.  Genes do play a role, but a bigger role is sunlight!  Spending longer hours indoors under artificial lights than outside in natural sunlight, does impact on your eyes’ health and, in children, in the development of their eyes.  Researchers indicate that the outdoor sunlight help the child’s developing eyes to maintain the correct distance between the lens and the retina (important in keeping your vision in focus).  When you add the “modern” world and you allow your children to spend hours on an iPad, cell phone and the like, their eyesight will deteriorate even faster!  

Another factor to consider regarding children is the sports they play when they are young; especially contact sports.  Eye injuries can be quite serious so best if they wear protecting gear around their eyes.  Most importantly; teach children from a young age to “stay away from the head” when they play or fight.  A blow against the head, on the side of the eyes, no matter how light, is very bad and dangerous.

So, how can you protect your eyes and help them to stay healthy?  Diet and exercise; just like the rest of your body!

Beta-carotene is vital and found in yellow fruits and vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale and butternut).  Vitamins C and E, together with zinc, also plays an important role.

Bioflavonoids can help to protect the eyes against cataracts and macular degeneration.  Sources include tea, red wine, citrus fruits, bilberries, blueberries, cherries, legumes and soya produce.

Lutein and zeaxanthin, found in spinach, kale, turnip greens, collard greens and squash, can also help to prevent cataracts and macular degeneration.

Omega-3 is extremely important in preventing macular degeneration and dry eyes.  Sources include oily fish like salmon, mackerel and herring, as well as grounded flaxseeds and walnuts.

Vitamin A, found in beef and chicken liver, eggs, butter and milk, are important to protect the eyes against dryness and night blindness.

Vitamin C, found in sweet peppers (especially the red peppers), kale, strawberries, broccoli, guavas, oranges, mangoes and cantaloupe, can help to fight against cataracts and macular degeneration.

Vitamin D, found in salmon, sardines, mackerel, milk and fortifies cereals and juices, can reduce the risk of macular degeneration.  Sunlight, however, is still the best source of vitamin D.  Spending 10 – 20 minutes in the sun, without sunscreen and not when the sun is at its hottest, will ensure that your body produces vitamin D.

Vitamin E, found in almonds, sunflower seeds and hazelnuts, may further reduce the risk of advanced AMD (especially when it is combined with carotenoids and vitamin C).

Zinc, found in oysters, beef, crab and turkey, aids vitamin A in the reduction of night blindness-risk and can play a role in reducing the risk of advanced macular degeneration.

A good supplement for eye health, that I use, is VisionVite (see photo).  Our diets sometimes lack the necessary nutrients, minerals and vitamins needed, so this was recommended to me by my eye specialist. 

Exercises for the eyes?!  Yes!!  The eye muscle needs to be exercised and stretched, just like you do the rest of your body.  Here are a few:

Place your index finger on the tip of your nose and look at it.  Slowly move it away from your nose until you only see 1 finger, then slowly bring it back to the nose.  Repeat.

Draw circles by only using your eyes.  First to the right, then to the left.  Repeat.

Look up, down, to the left, to the right, only moving your eyes.

Look at something far away, then at something close by.  Then blink and relax.

Another easy exercise to help relax the eyes is to squeeze your them together (think of it as giving them a hug!).  Squeeze until you see colours or dots appear, then relax, keeping them closed, until it is black again.

Lastly; to relax your eyes, you can either place cucumber slices on them or a warm towel.

If not possible, then rub your hands together until there is heat in-between the palms of your hands.  Now place your warm hands over the eyes, breathe deeply and just relax!  The heat that was generated will penetrate the eyes and relax the eye muscle.  Don’t believe me?  Think of it this way – if you are very stiff, you go for a massage.  Your eye muscle cannot be massaged, so the only way to help it to relax is to do this!!

In today’s modern society computers and the like are everywhere and used by everyone.  Best we can do for our eyes is to give it all the nutrients it needs to function optimally, to go for yearly check-ups, to exercise our eyes just like we exercise our body, and to take breaks and rest without looking at a screen as often as possible!  Remember you only have one set of eyes – so don’t skimp on taking care of them!  Eyesight is a blessing!

Hotpod Yoga, Pilates in a hot studio, Aerial Yoga – what is it and is it worth doing?

For the last couple of years a new Yoga- and Pilates-trend popped-up all over the world…Hotpod Yoga.  Founded in 2013 by Nick Higgins and Max Henderson, it was brought to South Africa in 2015 by Daniela de Bruyn.  Her goal, she says, was to make Yoga more accessible to people who are not perfection-seeking yogis.  So, how does this differ from the traditional Yoga-classes that you do in a studio or at the gym?

Firstly; it is done in a pod – an inflatable, cocoon-like space, that is heated to 37°C, instead of a studio. 

Secondly; the idea of the heated area (pod) is to increase the body’s flexibility, raises your heartbeat and makes you sweat more (cardio-workout with a twist).

The advantages are that you are more supple, due to the heat your heartrate goes up, thus you’re having a cardio-workout as well, and you sweat.

The drawbacks, however, are that you can over-stretch (as the heat makes your muscles more flexible and you try poses that you would otherwise not be able to do), you can become nauseous and/or dizzy of all the heat, even though you sweat you do not loose weight but water, and lastly, if you are pregnant, have high blood pressure or suffer from claustrophobia, the heated space can worsen it.

What about Hot Pilates? 

This is Pilates done in a warm studio, using the same moves and principles of Pilates, it also raises your heartrate, body temperature and you build up a sweat.

As with Hotpod Yoga, one should be aware that you can overstretch and or get dizzy / nauseous, if not careful. 

In 2013 a study from the American Council on Exercise, monitored a group of people’s heart rate, rate of perceived exertion and their core temperature, whilst doing a yoga class at 21 degrees Celsius.  A day later they monitored the same class doing yoga at 33 degrees Celsius.

The results?  All participants’ heart rates and core temperatures were about the same during both these classes.  Researchers also found that only if temperature were 35 degrees Celsius or more, results can differ.  All in all, the researchers found that hot yoga (hotpod yoga) were as safe as regular yoga and that the participants’ heart rates were similar during both these classes.

Another “new” kid on the block, is Aerial (Suspension) Yoga.  It combines Yoga-stretches, Aerial exercises, Strength training, Pilates movements and stretching.  Instead of exercising on the floor all the time, a sling / hammock (made from soft fabric), is used.  This is suspended from the ceiling to hip height in order to distribute the person’s body weight between the floor and the sling.  This, according to those doing these classes, help with core strength-building, balance and flexibility.  Because the yoga poses are done in the sling, the latter helps the person to use gravity to deepen the stretch and focus more on alignment.  When you “hang” upside down in the sling your spinal cord is decompressed, thus a person can feel taller.                           

As a Rehabilitation specialist and a master trainer in Pilates and Yoga, I would only make a couple of suggestions if you have never tried any of these three exercise-methods.

Firstly; do it in a normal studio (not in a hotpod or in a sling), so that you can learn what your body can and cannot do.

Secondly; it is important to build core strength, balance and control (of both body and mind), in Yoga and Pilates, to really reap the benefits.

Thirdly; if you have high blood pressure, is pregnant, suffer from claustrophobia, have low blood pressure (which can make you dizzy when in overheated spaces), or any injury (especially back, neck, knees and hips), it is best not to start in a hot studio or doing Aerial yoga. Double-jointed people should be extra cautious as you can easily injure yourself.  For someone who is not normally very flexibly, the hot yoga- and Pilates can make it easier to do the exercises / poses, as well as Aerial yoga.  However, even flexible people can overstretch if working out in a very hot studio / environment or in a sling.

Best to always consult your doctor before trying one of the above routines; especially if you have never done it before and/or have any medical history. Always listen to your body!  Start at the beginner’s level (especially if you are a new member) and work your way up to advanced level.  Do not jump intermediate level as you can end up injuring yourself. ��

“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!!