Enhancing Iron Absorption

When we source iron from animal products and/or supplements, our body isn’t able to intelligently modulate uptake. The iron is absorbed, whether we need it or not, and this can put us in danger of iron excess. Iron is pro-oxidative and hence damaging to DNA and other molecules.

Iron excess is associated with a broad range of chronic illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, arthritis, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and colorectal and other cancers. Chronic (long term) iron overdose can result in aggressive behaviour, fatigue or hyperactivity, gut damage, seratonin imbalances, liver damage and so on.

When we source our iron from plant based foods, our body automatically adjusts how much we absorb based on what we need, which means we are in no danger of iron excess. If we need less, we will absorb less; if we need more, we absorb more. Vegans and vegetarians typically develop lower ferritin stores and this optimizes their absorption of iron.

WHAT ENHANCES IRON ABSORPTION?

You can dramatically enhance this absorption process by making sure you have vitamin-C rich foods with (or around about the same times as) iron rich foods. Most fruits and vegetables contain vitamin C, but some of the richer sources are broccoli, cabbage, kale, parsley, capsicum, black currants, guava, kiwifruit, mango, orange, pineapple, rockmelon, and strawberry. The citric acids in citrus fruits also enhance absorption, as do the beta-carotenes in yellow, red and orange foods. Continue reading

St Johns Wort- safe use

St John’s Wort is probably one of the most researched and self-prescribed herbs around, so I thought I’d let people know some info for safe usage. These are some of the things I have to think about, as a professional, before prescribing:

Pregnancy and breastfeeding: while this herb appears to be safe so far given studies on both pregnancy and breastfeeding, I tend to err on the side of caution in pregnancy and use less or no herbs (or only miscarriage-prevention herbs), especially if there is any history of miscarriage.

There is a wonderful word we use in herbal medicine called ‘contraindicated’, which is the opposite to ‘indicated’. When someone says “St John’s Wort is indicated in ___”, this means “use this herb for this condition”. If a herb is contraindicated for a particular condition, it means DONT use it.

For example, St Johns Wort is contraindicated for people who have skin photosensitivity, and people taking high doses should be careful if they get a lot of sun exposure or artificial UVA irradiation.

St Johns Wort has been listed as contraindicated with the following drugs: warfarin, digoxin, cyclosporin, indinavir and related anti-HIV drugs, the contraceptive pill… and many others! This is because doctors are worried that something in SJWort may make the body metabolise prescribed drugs faster and thus reduce their effectiveness. It looks like the cause for this might be a specific phytochemical called hyperforin that is present in some subspecies of STWort and not others. Low SJW doses of no more than 2g per day, and/or a form containing less hyperforin (e.g. liquid herbal extract like the ones us herbalists use!) can make SJW safe to use with prescribed drugs, but it should still be done with professional supervision. I’ve certainly seen people get pregnant while on the pill due to taking SJW concurrently (at the same time). So basically, if you are on prescribed medication, don’t self-prescribe SJW- get professional guidance. Continue reading

Being a student

I’ve been happily neglecting all my websites at the moment because I’m working on a book about my grandparents and my great uncle, but every now and then some fascinating naturopathic references pop up, a paragraph here and there, in the letters I’m scouring through in the search for book material.

The other day an old unsent letter reminded me that I had originally been looking at studying to become a dietician. I had forgotten about that. The timing, looking through these old letters, is quite interesting because my daughter has just started studying naturopathy and she too was faced with the same subject dilemma.

The latest letter I’ve found doesn’t have a date on it, but I’m guessing it was in the late 1990’s. I was just about to start my clinic time. I apprenticed myself to some amazing herbalists and naturopaths around town, including a local psychologist who helped me hone my spiritual counselling and colour therapy skills. I was also in the midst of studying pathology, which really wasn’t my idea of fun: Continue reading

Diarrhoea

I’m writing this blog to answer a question in the Ask the Vegan Naturopath Facebook group. The question is about chronic diarrhoea, with a known gluten sensitivity. While the person I’m answering has had medical testing done and was able to provide a fair bit of information, I’m answering this in a more general manner for the benefit of others who may be suffering from diarrhoea without the benefit of having done this investigation:

First, make sure you have fully researched all gluten sources. Make sure you haven’t missed anything. And double check the ingredients labels on everything he is eating. Has this been medically diagnosed? I’ve seen children who appear to have diarrhea but it’s actually constipation with loose stool running out around this blockage.

If it is diarrhea, ask yourself if there is too much raw food or fruit in his diet. These can lead to diarrhea in some people. Loose stool in Chinese medicine is often thought to be due to weak or deficient spleen-pancreas qi, or if it gets really bad, deficient digestive fire. These people can have a pale tongue with a thin white coating, tend to be tired, have food sensitivities and other digestive troubles. They advise reducing excessive raw vegetables, fruit (esp citrus), sprouts, cereal grasses, tomato, spinach, tofu, wild blue-green microalgae, seaweeds, salt, dairy, sweets and vinegar (eg fermented foods). Helpful foods to add or increase are: sweet potato, pumpkin, carrot, parsnip, turnip, garbanzo and black beans, onions, leek, ginger, cinnamon, fennel, garlic, nutmeg, and fruits cooked rather than raw. Food needs to be chewed well! Continue reading

Neuralgia

I was recently asked to talk about neuralgia by one of the members in our group “Ask the Vegan Naturopath”. Whenever my replies are longer than a few paragraphs, I prefer to turn them into blogs. 

Neuralgia is nerve pain, tingling and/or pins and needles from inflamed or damaged nerves.

Each client is treated as an individual and remedies are chosen that suit each unique case. The first thing to consider is the underlying cause, if it can be identified. Is the problem being caused by something structural in the musculoskeletal system tied in with injury or bad habits like poor posture and sitting too much? Is it damage caused by too much alcohol or drugs, or by too much glucose in the blood? Other causes might be too much artificial supplemented vitamin B6 or some kind of environment poisoning eg arsenic, mercury, lead, organo-phosphate residues from weed-killers and so on. An example of a nutrient deficiency that might cause nerve pain is vitamin B12 deficiency. Nerve pain can also be caused by infections like shingles. And the list goes on! Continue reading

Oats

Don’t you just love the look of this breakfast?! I’m not much of a cereal-for-breakfast person myself, but if I do have cereal, porridge is it! This is whole-oats porridge with rice milk, coconut yogurt, banana, apple, strawberry, mandarine, chai seeds, LSA (ground up linseed, sunflower and almonds).

I love food-herbs like oats. Food herbs are often also nutritive herbs, herbs that are packed full of nutrients; a whole-food multi-mineral/vitamin source. Oats is extremely rich in silicon, iron, chromium, sodium and magnesium. It also contains high levels of phosphorus and calcium, reasonable amounts of iron and selenium, and smaller quantities of iron, zinc, manganese and potassium. The magnesium-calcium-potassium team is a classic nervous system team and in herbs like this it’s present in beautifully synergistic or perfectly balanced ratio’s that the body loves. Continue reading

B12 update

I’ve been doing some research into vegan B12 options, and as always, it sinks in how little we really know, how much more we have to learn, and the uncertainties of it all. I can tell you what science has worked out so far, but remember that everything is always changing as new evidence comes to light. Science is, and always will be, an incomplete art: we cannot know what we don’t know, or where the blind spots in our vision are, and without this understanding, we are always going to be seeing only part of the big picture. Continue reading

Vegan Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding doesn’t work out for everyone, but if you can do it, there are some wonderful bonuses.

For the baby, breastfeeding provides food in its ideal form, just as nature intended, with all macro and micronutrients in perfect ratio to one another. Besides being filled with all of these nutrients, human breast milk also contains plant chemicals that boost health and protect your baby against disease, along with powerful gut-flora and immune boosting gifts from the mother’s body such as antibodies, cytokines, anti-microbials and oligosaccharides. Breast-fed babies are less likely to develop colds, ear infections, asthma, allergies and stomach upsets, and later in life, they are less likely to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, obesity, or childhood leukaemia. It’s amazing to think that there is this incredible symbiotic relationships between the mother’s body and the child’s, with the composition of the mother’s breast milk adjusting itself constantly in response to the babies changing needs. Continue reading

Eating disorders and vegan/vegetarian diets

I’ve been meaning to write this blog for a while, and now feels like the right time. Essentially, what I’m doing here is simply sharing some brilliant information from the “Weighty Matter’s” chapter of one of my favourite books, ‘Becoming Vegan’, written by vegan dieticians Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina. It really does pay to source vegan dietary support from people who actually specialise in this field, and these two women are two of the best! Brenda is a leader in her field and an internationally acclaimed speaker. Past chairperson of the Vegetarian Dietetic Practise Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Brenda has written more than eight books and is the lead dietitian in a diabetes research project in Majuro, Marshall Islands. Vesanto taught nutrition at the University of British Columbia and Bastyr University in Seattle, co-authored the joint-position paper on vegetarian diets for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Dieticians of Canada and is a consultant to the government of British Columbia.

As the authors point out in their “Weighty Matter’s” chapter, there are many experts who believe that vegan and vegetarian diets can increase the risk of eating disorders and some treatment centres will force a reintroduction of meat into the diet as part of the recovery process. These ideas are based on data from 1997-2009 that reported significantly higher rates of disturbed eating among the vegetarian population in comparison to non-vegetarians. And the statistics are significant: approximately 50% of adolescents and young women with anorexia nervosa eat some form of vegetarian diet whereas only 6-34% of their non-anorexic peers eat a vegetarian diet.

The problem with these statistics lays in the way they are interpreted: we can’t look at them and simply assume that vegan and vegetarian diets lead to anorexia. Quite the contrary, research has shown that people with eating disorders adopt vegetarian diets, “using them to facilitate calorie restriction and legitimise the removal of high-fat, high-calorie animal products, and processed or fast foods made with these products.” In other words, the vegetarian or plant-based diet becomes a ‘front’ and can easily mask an existing eating disorder. This has been referred to as “pseudo vegetarianism.” Continue reading

Eggs

Health Concerns about Eggs


I’ve been intrigued with eggs lately, and thought I would compile all the research I’ve been reading into one place, as a blog. Please keep in mind I was only looking at the negative risk factors associated with eggs, rather than the benefits. From a health perspective, it makes sense to avoid eggs altogether if you have diabetes or a cardiovascular disease, or you want to avoid certain cancers that might run in your family such as colon cancer and prostate cancer.


Environmental contaminants:

The main dietary source of environmental contaminants for humans, comes from animal body parts and secretions. One study compared the concentrations of 7 contaminants in the breast milk of 12 vegans with that of the general population and found that for all contaminants except PCBs, the highest vegan value was lower than the lowest value in the general population. This does varies depending on the vegans studied however, but what does seem to be consistent across the board is the very low levels of organochlorine pesticides in vegans. (2) From what I have read though, it seems as though meat and dairy are a higher risk source of environmental contaminants than eggs are. Continue reading