Archive for the ‘Ask Marilyn’ Category

Ask Marilyn: What can I do to prevent menopause-related osteoporosis?

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Q: I’m approaching the menopause and am extremely worried about the risk of osteoporosis associated with it because my mother and grandmother both suffered from it. What can I do to prevent it?


A: A greater cause of immobility than strokes or heart attacks, osteoporosis (also known as brittle bone disease, when your bones become weak and fracture easily) results in disability, pain, loss of independence and even death. The risk of osteoporosis increases with age, especially after the menopause when oestrogen levels decline. Other risk factors are a slight build, family history of the disease, early menopause and chronic bowel problems like irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulitis. Some of these risks, like your family history, can’t be changed – but there are plenty of ways you can defend yourself against the onset of this disease. It’s never too late to start because diet and lifestyle changes can slow and reverse the symptoms at any age. In addition to eating a healthy diet, rich in phytoestrogens (naturally occurring forms of oestrogen) found in soybeans, wholegrains, flaxseeds and legumes, the recommendations that follow can help reduce your risk of osteoporosis:

Change your lifestyle: Women who sit for more than nine hours a day are twice as likely to have hip fractures as those who sit for less than six hours a day. So if you have a sedentary job or lifestyle you should build more exercise into your life. Activity is crucial because it helps build strong bones and muscles, so make sure you follow the menopause diet exercise guidelines. Don’t become a gym junkie though. Excessive exercising, as well as dieting and overeating, can increase the likelihood of developing the condition.


Avoid faddy diets: Without enough vitamin D, calcium and other valuable nutrients your body cannot defend itself against osteoporosis. So don’t follow faddy diets or crash diet as it deprives your body of the nutrients it needs to keep your bones healthy.


Stop smoking and drink in moderation: Women smokers generally have lower bone density and after the age of 40 they lose bone faster than non smokers. Excessive alcohol consumption interferes with the way your body handles calcium, increasing the amount you get rid of and decreasing the amount you absorb.


Eat for strong bones: Calcium is your vital mineral for the formation and continuing strength of your bones and teeth and a diet rich in it is your first step in protecting yourself against osteoporosis. Some women increase their intake of dairy foods to boost calcium intake, but this can be counter productive. Although these foods do provide us with calcium, the acidic nature of some dairy foods, particularly cheese, can in fact encourage our bones to release calcium rather than conserve it. Therefore, it’s important to look at other food sources. Calcium-rich foods include tinned sardines and salmon (with bones), seaweed, eggs, sesame seeds (tahini), figs, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, amaranth, spring greens, cabbage, broccoli, parsley, watercress, sunflower seeds, soya, chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans, buckwheat, brown rice and quinoa.


In addition to calcium you also need to get plenty of vitamin D, as without it your body can’t put calcium into your bones. Your body manufactures its own vitamin D when your skin is exposed to ultraviolet light from the sun, and 10 to 15 minutes daily exposure without sunscreen is perfectly safe in the early morning or late afternoon. The best dietary source of vitamin D is oily fish, although there are small amounts in egg yolks. If you don’t go out into the sunlight at all you should take vitamin D supplements. A strong skeleton also needs omega-3 fatty acids from flaxseeds and fish oil and vitamin K from green vegetables, which is vital for hardening calcium in your bones. Magnesium, found in nuts, seeds and peanut butter, is another vital mineral because it helps your body absorb calcium and vitamin D. And don’t forget to get enough vitamin B. A new study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology has found that elderly people with low levels of B vitamins are more likely to have hip fractures. Cereals, beans, fish and pulses are all good sources of the B vitamins.


Lose excess weight: But don’t get too thin or exercise too much. Your body needs some fat to produce oestrogen, which is produced in fat cells; thin women, especially those who diet and over exercise, are more likely to suffer from osteoporosis.


Watch your stress levels: When you are anxious your adrenal glands pump out a number of hormones including cortisol, which can increase the risk of fractures, so find ways to manage stress. I recommend yoga, breathing exercises and meditation – but find what works best for you.

Your risk of osteoporosis will be higher because of your family history, but it is not inevitable that you will have it too, so put into place preventative measures to protect yourself. For more detailed information on what to eat and what supplements to take, see my book ‘Osteoporosis – the silent epidemic’.

Ask Marilyn: Are there any natural ways to prevent tension headaches?

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Q: I suffer a lot from headaches, which often feel like a tight band restricting my forehead. My doctor says they’re tension headaches and has recommended painkillers, but are there any ways to prevent them naturally?


A: Headaches are caused when blood vessels in the head constrict or dilate leading to pressure on the nerves. Adrenaline, toxins, food allergies, eye strain, hormonal changes and problems with your neck, shoulder and jaw can all contribute to this.

Tension headaches are more likely to occur when you’re stressed and chemicals such as adrenaline are released, making your blood vessels tighten and reducing blood flow to your brain. I would recommend trying yoga, meditation or breathing exercises and 300mg of magnesium citrate before you go to bed to relax the blood vessels. Alcohol, smoking and caffeine can all trigger headaches too, so cut down on these. Food intolerance may be a culprit so keep a food diary to see if there are any possible trigger foods. A number of people get headaches after eating a class of chemicals called amines, which include cheese and chocolate so try to pinpoint if these are the cause and if they are eliminate them from your diet for a while.


Liver function affects the quality and flow of your blood and if it’s not efficiently getting rid of toxins this can trigger headaches, so you may want to try the liver-boosting herb milk thistle. It goes without saying that a healthy diet and regular exercise will also boost circulation and help your body detox naturally. If there is a misalignment of your neck discs or jaw joint, cranial blood flow will be restricted and this can cause a headache. See a cranial osteopath to correct any misalignment. And finally, eye strain may be the trigger. If you spend long periods of time every day staring at a computer screen or find it hard to read small print it may be time to take better care of your eyes. Take regular breaks every 20 minutes when working on the computer and keep your eyes moist by blinking regularly. Visiting an optician will also be of benefit to see if reading or computer glasses are necessary.

Ask Marilyn: Are there any herbs that can help to lower high blood pressure?

Monday, June 1st, 2009

Q: I’ve recently been diagnosed with higher than normal blood pressure. My doctor has asked me to come back in a couple of months to see if it adjusts with diet and exercise changes before subscribing medication. Could you tell me if there are also some herbs that can help lower high blood pressure?


A: First of all, I’m delighted to hear that your doctor has suggested the natural approach to lowering your blood pressure before jumping into medication and I strongly urge you to follow his or her advice. Studies have shown that in many cases you can reduce blood pressure – without the need for medication – through regular exercise, weight loss and a healthy low-salt diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes, and low in refined processed foods. Give yourself two to three months at least to see if this approach works, but if it doesn’t you will need to discuss medical options with your doctor, because high blood pressure should always be taken seriously as it carries with it an increased risk of heart disease.

Blood pressure is the pressure exerted by the blood on the walls of blood vessels as it is pumped through them. Numerous factors contribute to blood pressure levels – the most important thing for you to know is how to maintain a healthy blood pressure so that blood flows efficiently throughout the body. You’re more prone to high blood pressure if you have problems with your kidneys, adrenal glands or blood vessels, eat lots of salt, are overweight or do not exercise regularly. The jury is still out on the long-term effects of caffeine on high blood pressure, but it is well documented that nicotine contributes to it. Stress also plays a big role – have you ever heard that just being nervous about a visit to the doctor can make your blood pressure jump? Actually, stress and nicotine work in a similar fashion. They both increase the release of adrenaline, which in turn raises blood pressure.

As well as addressing the diet and lifestyle issues that can lower blood pressure (losing weight, cutting down on salt, exercising regularly and reducing stress), if your blood pressure is only borderline high you might want to try the following herbs to see if they work for you. Before taking any of these herbs, though, be sure to inform your doctor. This is especially important if you have a medical condition, are taking any medication, or are pregnant or trying for a baby.


·         Hawthorn is the herb of choice for high blood pressure. In a controlled trial (conducted by researchers in Reading, UK) 79 patients with type 2 diabetes were randomly selected to receive either hawthorn or a placebo for 16 weeks. Medication for high blood pressure was used by 71% of the patients. At the end of the 16 weeks, patients taking the hawthorn supplement had a significant reduction in blood pressure. No herb-drug interactions were reported.

·         Garlic is perhaps the easiest and the most flavoursome herbal remedy you can turn to. Garlic has been used medicinally since at least the days of the Pharaohs. Taking garlic can lower cholesterol, reduce blood-clotting, and lower high blood pressure. The only negative side effect is garlic-breath. A solution is to take garlic supplements or chew sprigs of fresh parsley. Since parsley is also a diuretic, this combination not only lowers blood pressure, it can also help with the swollen ankles that sometimes accompany high blood pressure. When choosing a garlic supplement go for aged garlic (see the Resources Page) as this is more powerful than just regular garlic capsules.


Garlic and hawthorn are the most well known and commonly prescribed herbs to help lower blood pressure but the following may also have benefits:

·         Animal studies have shown the powerful blood pressure- and cholesterol-lowering actions of maitake mushrooms. A research conducted by the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New-York, concluded that maitake mushrooms can help lower cholesterol and have anti-tumour effects. You can get maitake mushrooms from most supermarkets. You can also take them in supplement form, either as tablets or powder (see the Resources Page for details).

·         Olive leaf extract is derived from the leaves of the olive tree. It contains a complex structure of substances which act as vasodilators, lowering blood pressure. The blood pressure lowering action of olive leaf has been studied for two decades and researchers noted a statistically significant decrease of blood pressure for all patients, without side effects.

·         Yarrow contains substances which have been found effective in lowering blood pressure and lipids. Research has shown a significant decrease in blood pressure after just two months of treatment with yarrow extract drops.

·         If you drink coffee or black tea you may want to consider switching to green tea to lower high blood pressure. Green tea, along with seaweed, has been shown to be therapeutic according to research from Japan.

·         And lastly, although co-enzyme Q10 is not a herb, it should be included in a blood pressure lowering programme. It can also help with balancing blood sugar and lowers triglycerides (blood fats) and raises HDL (‘good’ cholesterol). Take 60mg per day.