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New Year Resolutions
are often asked for help at this time of year from people who are looking
forward to the new year and are thinking of what they could do to make
their life a bit better. Most often we are asked to suggest simple changes
that will help people improve their health. These changes can have far
reaching effects, both physically and emotionally. The 3 areas we will
look at in this newsletter are: increasing energy levels, improving the
diet in general and a more natural approach to
- Herbs including Valerian ( Valeriana officinalis ), Chamomile ( Chamomilla recutita ) and Passionflower ( Passiflora incanarta ) all have traditional uses in helping people to fall asleep.
- 5HTP is a supplement which can be taken to help with sleep. Your body can convert 5HTP to serotonin. Serotonin is a hormone that acts as an antidepressant, and may also be converted into melatonin when the body is in the dark, helping with sleep.
- Smells and scents such as lavender can be useful, especially if they are found pleasant by the person using them.
When mental fatigue leads to reduced energy
Many people will have experienced a situation where they feel mentally exhausted, have low motivation and can't be bothered. This may be after a period of high stress, a period of emotional lows or some other change in habits such as reduced exercise. There are herbs which can play a role in addressing these issues ( Although if you are feeling severely down or depressed, please consult your GP or a herbalist .)
Excessive stress (physical or emotional) can be an issue leading to tiredness, often combined with lack of sleep. If the situation is likely to occur for a fixed period of time (such as for a number of weeks before an exam or interview) we sometimes suggest taking herbs that are adaptogens (herbs that help your body cope with stress); such as Siberian ginseng ( Eleutherococcus senticosus ), Rhodiola ( Rhodiola rosea ) or Ashwaganda ( Withania somniforum ). If the stress will continue long term, then we may suggest consulting a herbalist or other practitioner for specific help.
Low mood can sometimes feel like a vicious cycle, having a low mood leads to low motivation, less exercise and activity, and more tiredness, which exacerbates the low mood, and so on. This spiral can lead to very low energy. For low mood, herbs such as St John's Wort ( Hypericum perforatum ) and Lemon Balm ( Melissa officinalis ) may help start someone on an upward path. Also, the B vitamins and vitamin D3 may be beneficial. Supplements of both may be taken, or increase B vitamins in the diet by increasing wholegrains and vitamin D3 by increasing sunshine on the skin during the middle of the day.
Exercise is now recognised as one of the best ways to raise energy levels, provided the person doesn't over exert themselves. Exercise does not have to mean going along to an exercise class, although some people prefer classes. Short walks, dancing and housework are all forms of exercise. Try to do half an hour a day, five days a week. Remember that if you have not exercised for some time, you may need to consult your GP before starting a new exercise regime, otherwise start gently and see how you go.
Increasing energy by improving your diet and your body's health
Your body creates energy at the cellular level in each and every cell in your body. This begins when the body combines glucose (sugar) with oxygen to release energy, in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). For this to take place your body needs glucose from the diet, oxygen from your breathing, iron to carry oxygen in the red blood cells, co-enzyme Q10 to enable the energy producing reaction, along with many other amino acids, enzymes, vitamins and minerals. Apart from the oxygen, these all need to be provided from your diet!
We will discuss overall changes in diet later, which can make significant improvements to energy levels. Make gradual improvements, as major changes can be a shock and difficult to keep up.
Sometimes there can be specific nutritional problems leading to low energy. The 2 most common issues in our experience are low iron (particularly in women of child bearing age, but also in older people) and the use of statins . Research has shown increases in energy levels of people who are on statins if they take supplemental CoQ10 (statins block formation of cholesterol and Co Enzyme Q10 in the body). (Note: it is important you consult your doctor before taking CoQ10 if you are on statins).
Resolution 2 Improved Diet
People have become more aware of how what we eat affects our health. TV shows regularly show us significant changes in people, but many of us have also noticed changes in people around us. Food is critical. The best changes to make are permanent improvements in our normal daily diet, even if these changes are small: having the five portions of fruit and vegetables a day; ensuring we don't skip breakfast; increasing the wholegrain and fibre intake in our diet (brown not white bread; and trying to reduce our intake of processed foods). Also ensure your meals include a mixture of complex carbohydrates, fats and protein. Choose snacks that you enjoy and that are beneficial (mixed nuts and seeds, a handful of raisins, even a packet of crisps are generally a better choice than some other snacks available). Although this is all good advice, people sometimes need some specific help to overcome their own patterns of eating.
No time to cook - can be a real problem, however if you decide to address this you will find a way (cook your meals on Sundays and freeze for the week, prepare lunch the night before, do your grocery shopping online at work during lunchtime).
Cravings for carbohydrates - eating 5 small meals containing complex carbohydrates (wholegrain bread, oatcakes or brown rice rather than white bread or rice, and little sugar) may reduce cravings, or just plan healthy snacks in between your planned meals. Helix Slim is a product produced by Vogel containing Jerusalem Artichoke, and designed to help reduce these cravings
Eating large portions - simply use a smaller plate when dishing up your meals and take time chewing each mouthful. Both of these simple changes can help with portion control. There are natural products available which may help reduce the absorption of some of the foods eaten. Freecarb is a product made from an extract of a particular type of white bean, it blocks the absorption of carbohydrates that are eaten. Fluids and food combined, such as a soup, can fill you up for longer. Try adding a simple vegetable soup to your main meal.
Constant snacking - increase fluid intake as sometimes thirst and hunger can be mixed up by your mind, also try not to get into the situation that makes you snack (boredom or sitting watching television are common factors).
Although these can help improve eating habits, it may also be necessary to take supplements to address specific needs. Examples include:
- many authors recommend diabetics take a good multivitamin as the raised sugar levels in the body can cause issues;
- vegetarians and vegans are often recommended to take vitamin B12 as this can be more difficult to get in a vegetarian diet;
- people who are at risk of anaemia (low iron) such as women with heavier periods, are often recommended to take supplemental iron .
Resolution 3 : A more natural approach to skincare
One of the most difficult areas of medical research is finding what chemicals harm us over the long term, as it is almost impossible to separate the individual effects of environmental pollution, chemicals in foods, radiation from phones etc., from each other. One other area that scientists are beginning to understand better is the role of the chemicals we put on our body, from deodorants to moisturisers, shampoos to make- up. As a result there is a general move to more natural skincare, which appear to be lower risk due to their natural ingredients, which our bodies seem to be better able to deal with than man-made ingredients.
If this is a concern, our advice is to focus on the products that are in constant contact with your body (moisturisers and deodorants for example) rather than those that are washed off quickly (e.g. soaps and shampoos).
Even for us, it is difficult to keep up to date with the research into the possible drawbacks of different ingredients. So we often suggest finding a company whose ethos you like and whose products agree with you, and using them. A good starting place is Weleda, a German company that has been making natural skincare since 1923. They grow many of their own ingredients at their farm in Nottingham and also make many of their products in the UK. Visit our website to see their products.
Although this has been a very brief guide to natural ways to support your New Year's resolutions, it has never been easier to find out more. For example food standard agency to learn more about how foods affect us or contact us for more info on any other topics.
P.S. Resolution 4 and more: follow the links to find out more about natural help for Stopping Smoking , dry skin brushing , losing weight , consulting a herbalist and more.
Cautions and Contraindications: In our shop we will normally offer simple guidance and self-help suggestions, however we will also suggest that a medical herbalist, acupuncturist or other therapist may be able to offer specific help. If you have an unusual or undiagnosed condition, we would recommend seeing a herbalist or your GP for a diagnosis. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding please seek advice before taking herbs or supplements.
into why our bodies age focuses on both the process of ageing and also the
diseases of old age. Most research focuses on the diseases of old age,
however researchers investigating theories of the ageing process are
making progress. It is now generally thought that damage to the individual
cells in our body means they lose their ability to replace themselves. One
of the main causes of this damage is called oxidative stress, this
damage can be reduced by antioxidants .
Note: ORAC scores can vary depending on freshness of the fruit or vegetables. Cooking can reduce levels (e.g. steaming reduces ORAC less than boiling). Also some foods with high ORAC stores are not normally eaten high quantities. Variety is more important than a single high ORAC score food.The availability of anti-oxidants in plants is one of the main reasons that it is recommended that we take 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day - to protect our bodies from damage (a mixed 5 portions will typically reach an ORAC score of 5,000). Other benefits of increasing our intake of fruit and vegetables is that we increase fibre intake (which can help reduce raised cholesterol) and we typically decrease our intake of inflammatory foods (such as wheat, diary and meat) when we start to eat more fruit and vegetables For these reasons increasing the fruit and vegetables in the diet is often considered the single most important step to a healthier diet.
Some situations may call for extra anti-oxidants in the diet or taking a supplement. It is known that sports people produce more oxidants during training, so are likely to benefit from anti-oxidants. People who struggle to get fruit and vegetables in their diet could also benefit from additional antioxidants. Finally your eyes can benefit from increased antioxidants, as they are the bit of your body most exposed to sunlight. Antioxidants have been shown to reduce the risk of AMD (age-related macular degeneration) the most common cause of blindness over the age of 60 in the UK.
Some sources of antioxidants:-
- dried bilberries (especially for the eyes)
- fresh fruit and vegetables (especially brightly coloured)
- supplements of vitamins A, C and E
- speciality antioxidant supplements such as acai, pynogenol or green tea extract.
- Solgar antioxidant complex (combines many of the antioxidants above).
Even if taking a supplement still aim for at least 5 portions of fruit and/or vegetables a day (fruit juice can only count as 1 and potatoes don't count at all!).