Archive for the ‘IBS’ Category

Your 40s 50s and 60s: control common problems the natural way

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

As we age we all become more vulnerable to certain health conditions, but there are plenty of natural ways to prevent them so you can live your life to the full. Whatever your age, the following natural well being plan will help you control some of the most common age-related problems.


Your 40s


Sleep problems

Sleeplessness is more likely to occur in your 40s when the hormonal changes of the menopause approach and this can increase your risk of stress, anxiety and fatigue. Along with a healthy diet and regular exercise studies have shown that a quality night’s sleep is essential for weight management, hormone balance and good health in general.


To encourage a good night’s sleep boost your calcium and magnesium intake by eating more green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds during the day. Calcium and magnesium work together and are often described as ‘nature’s tranquilisers.’ You may also want to try a little herbal help with valerian, which, along with passion flower and hops, is known for its sleep-inducing and calming qualities.


Try to get at least 30 minutes exercise in the fresh air as natural daylight and activity can result in 50 percent improvement in sleep patterns. It can also help to make sure your bedtime routine is relaxing. Have a warm bath with aromatherapy oils to wind down and avoid drinking caffeine during the afternoon and evening. Don’t take your worries to bed. Make a list of things you need to think about tomorrow. If you still can’t get to sleep don’t lie there tossing and turning and clock watching – get up and do something relaxing, such as listening to calming music, until you feel sleepy.


Lack of energy

Many women over the age of 45 say they suffer from tiredness and as you enter your 40s you may start to find your energy levels dropping. As we age, metabolic and physiological changes can impact on your body’s energy levels, causing fatigue. But this doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about it. With the right diet and exercise plan and a positive mind set, many women in their 40s – and beyond – feel more energetic than ever. Take the actress Meryl Streep, for example, anyone who saw her singing, dancing, and leaping around in the movie ‘Mama Mia’ would have found it hard to believe she is a year shy of 60.


In the next few issues I’ll be giving you more advice about natural ways to boost your energy levels, but for now the most important things you can do are to exercise more and cut down on caffeine and sugar. Regular exercise is essential for keeping your energy levels up. Caffeine and sugar may give you an instant hit but they’ll leave you feeling tired and depleted in the long run. A healthy, balanced diet is crucial as nutritional deficiencies can trigger fatigue (see also the article on ‘Eating for energy’) and you could also benefit from supplementing with a daily multivitamin and mineral, especially one that contains vitamin B12, which is known to boost energy. Choose a multivitamin and mineral that is designed for leading up to and through the menopause, the one I use in the clinic is called Menoplus. Herb wise, ginseng is the ultimate energy booster. Several trials have shown it to be effective in alleviating the symptoms of low energy but for women it is better to use Siberian ginseng rather than any other kind of ginseng, otherwise the effects can be too strong and some women found they were having palpitations. (See the Resources Page for information on the supplements and herbs).


Peri-menopause and menopause

During your 40s you are most likely to experience the symptoms of peri menopause. This occurs when your ovaries have reduced egg supply and they gradually cease to produce the female hormone oestrogen. Perimenopause can occur as early as five to ten years before the actual menopause, which is most likely to occur in your early 50s. The symptoms of perimenopause are lighter but mirror those of the menopause and include irregular periods, hot flushes, mood swings, weight gain and insomnia.


If you’re experiencing hot flushes, avoid clothes made from synthetic fabrics and wear layers instead to keep warm. Use bedclothes made from cotton and layers rather than a big duvet. Watch what you eat and drink – a hot drink before bedtime can often trigger night sweats or make them worse. Other triggers include caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods. And although it may make you feel hotter and sweatier in the short term, women who exercise regularly seem to have fewer flushes.


There are a number of natural therapies to choose from if you are in the early stages of peri-menopause. Phytoestrogens are hormone like substances that act like a weaker version of oestrogen and can help balance fluctuating hormones. They are present in foods like soya, legumes and linseeds (flaxseeds). The herb sage is known to be helpful at the menopause and black cohosh has shown to be effective for the hot flushes and night sweats. The ancient Chinese herb dong quai can also help balance hormones. (I think a combination of herbs is often more effective than single herbs so I use one called Black Cohosh Plus in the clinic. This contains black cohosh, dong quai, sage and milk thistle – see the Resources Page).


Bowel cancer

Over the age of forty your risk of bowel cancer increases. To find out how simple diet and lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of getting it, refer to the article ‘Bowel cancer: How to protect yourself’ in this issue.


Your 50s


Concentration and memory

In your 50s you may find that words and putting names to faces sometimes eludes you. Age does tend to affect our ability to store and retrieve information, but try not to panic. It’s very unlikely that this is an early sign of dementia. Doctors have recently confirmed that forgetfulness is a perfectly normal stage of ageing, just like greying hair. It may even be of benefit to avoid cluttering your mind with too much information. For example, you may forget where your spectacles are but you won’t forget what they are or what they are for! 


So instead of worrying about remembering – which just makes it harder to remember – take simple steps to help you remember things that you often forget. For example, put your keys in the same place every time and use visual association to help you remember names. For instance, if a woman you are introduced to is called Elizabeth, picture her standing beside Queen Elizabeth or Helen Mirren. It also helps to keep your mind active.


Just as your body needs regular exercise, your brain needs regular exercise too. Keep it fit by playing cards and chess games, reading books, doing crosswords, learning an instrument or new language or by pursuing a new hobby. The supplement ginkgo biloba is recommended for its memory boosting properties – studies show that taking this herb on a regular basis can improve concentration powers (see the Resources Page).


High blood pressure

High blood pressure or hypertension is becoming increasingly common with age and after the menopause women no longer have the protective effect of oestrogen. It is estimated that as many as one in four women over the age of 50 may have high blood pressure and if it is not controlled it can put incredible strain on your heart and arteries and increase your risk of stroke and diabetes. Symptoms include frequent headaches, dizziness or blurred vision, but worryingly it can often manifest without symptoms.


To reduce your risk of age related high blood pressure, cut down on your salt intake. Eating too much salt can send blood pressure soaring. The recommended maximum intake of salt per day is 6 grams so try replacing salt in cooking with herbs and spices for seasoning. And take note of hidden salt in foods – the British Heart Association estimates that three quarters of the salt we eat may come from processed foods and even basic foods such as white bread and cereals contain salt, so be sure to read food labels carefully.


Taking regular exercise will lower your blood pressure and will also help you to lose weight but you should also be sure to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Five portions of fruit and vegetables a day are a must. You should steer clear of saturated fats, added sugar and refined foods as these can increase the amount of cholesterol in your blood; the higher your cholesterol the greater your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.


Potassium intake can also help lower blood pressure – foods rich in this mineral include dried apricots, pulses and nuts. And the minerals magnesium (found in brazil nuts, sunflower seeds and soya beans) and calcium (found in dairy products and green leafy vegetables) have also been shown to lower blood pressure. The herb ginger has traditionally been used to help lower blood pressure. Garlic is also recommended for general heart health. You can take both ginger and garlic in supplement form if you think you can’t get enough with your food. I would recommend a specific form of garlic called Aged Garlic which is organically gown and odourless, but more importantly it is cold aged for 20 months which results in a more potent garlic. Co-enzyme Q10 is a vitamin-like substance contained in nearly every cell of your body. It is important for energy production and normal carbohydrate metabolism. Deficiency in co-enzyme Q10 can occur with ageing. In one randomised double-blind trial patients with high blood pressure who were taking blood pressure medication were given co-enzyme Q10. On the Q10 they had lower blood pressure and their HDL (‘good’ cholesterol) increased.  (See the Resources Page for information on supplements and herbs).



As many as one in two women will develop osteoporosis over the age of 50, because loss of bone density speeds up after the menopause as oestrogen levels decline. Many women aren’t aware that their bones are thinning dangerously until they get a broken bone after a minor bump or fall. But the good news is that osteoporosis can often be prevented and treated with natural therapies if detected early enough.


The first step is to give up smoking and to avoid passive smoking as both these can have a weakening effect on the bones. It is also vital to make sure that you don’t drink more than 10 units of alcohol a week, as alcohol depletes your body of bone-building nutrients. Calcium is bone food and it is found in dairy products, green leafy vegetables, sesame seeds, beans and dried fruit. You can also take it in supplement form, usually in combination with magnesium and vitamin D, which helps aid its absorption. Regular weight bearing exercise such as brisk walking, aerobics and jogging helps to strengthen bones and you should aim for at least five sessions a week for a minimum of 30 minutes. (For more detail on the prevention and treatment of Osteoporosis see my book ‘Osteoporosis – the silent epidemic’.)


Your 60s



As you age your body’s ability to deal with glucose (energy from food) declines and this decline increases your risk of diabetes. As many as eight out of ten people with diabetes are overweight, so eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly to keep your weight down. Studies have shown that women who exercise for 30 minutes a day and eat a diet low in trans fatty acids (found in hydrogenated vegetable oils and processed foods, such as biscuits and margarine) and high in fibre (found in wholegrains, fruits and vegetables), reduce their risk of diabetes by up to 90 percent. So eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, brown rice and pasta and choose monosaturated oils, such as olive oil, rather than trans fatty acids found in processed foods.


Diverticular disease and IBS

After the age of 60, diverticular disease, which is an inflammation of the intestines, is increasingly common, although many people don’t realise that they have it. Symptoms include constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fever and vomiting. IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) has similar symptoms. The exact cause isn’t known, but it is thought that stress and anxiety can be triggers.


Avoiding large meals, spicy foods, caffeine and alcohol, increasing fibre intake, and drinking plenty of water can all help. Relaxation is especially important. Certain supplements may also help keep your digestive system healthy and these include peppermint oil, which has an anti-spasmodic effect; artichoke extract which can reduce symptoms of bloating and probiotics (e.g. BioKult), which can replace healthy bacteria in the colon and ease digestive problems.


If you are experiencing any changes in your bowel motions, then it is important to see your doctor for a check up. 



Your risk of developing arthritis increases as you get older because arthritis is a wear and tear disease. Millions of people suffer from arthritis in the UK and the majority of them are over the age of 60, but it is certainly not inevitable.  


It is important to keep as flexible and mobile as possible – so gentle exercise, such as swimming, is a good idea. You should also keep pressure off your joints. As always, a healthy diet rich in fruit and vegetables and omega 3, found in oily fish, nuts and seeds, is essential for healthy joints.


Many arthritis sufferers find that the supplement bromelain eases inflammation. Bromelain is a natural enzyme found in pineapples. Omega 3 fish oils have an anti-inflammatory effect and can sometimes work as well as prescription drugs to ease pain. Make sure you get a fish oil with high levels of EPA and DHA, the one I use in the clinic (Omega 3 Plus) contains 700mg EPA and 500mg DHA from just two capsules a day. Ginger has also been found to have anti-inflammatory properties and glucosamine is an amino acid found naturally in your body’s cartilage that may help with joint repair. I find that the combination of MSM and glucosamine seems to work even better than either glucosamine on its own or combined with chondrotin (see MSM Plus on the Resources Page). 


As far as herbs go, boswellia and turmeric can also be extremely helpful for joint pains. Apple cider vinegar is also often recommended for arthritis as, contrary to what one might think, it actually helps the body to be more alkaline, so reducing inflammation. 

Beat the Boxing Day Bloat

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

Feeling gassy, puffy, and just plain bloated after Christmas? To help you feel better fast check out these smart ways to beat Boxing Day bloat:

  • Drink up: Boosting your water intake can work wonders. Skip the soft fizzy drinks and aim for 6 to 8 glasses on Boxing Day. Water flushes waste out of your system and helps get things moving if you’re constipated—a frequent cause of bloating.
  • Eat more fibre: Fibre prevents constipation and bloating by adding bulk, which helps everything move through the intestines more quickly. To fix the fibre shortage, start your boxing day with an oat cereal like porridge. Throughout the day, snack on other high-fibre foods like strawberries, blueberries, dried apricots, and dried plums. Take it easy though and don’t overload on fibre like bran or you’ll feel even more bloated than before.
  • Cut back on gassy foods: Seasonal beans and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, sprouts and cabbage can sometimes be hard to digest and because of this they can trigger bloating and smelly flatulence. But you don’t have to give them up entirely on Boxing Day, as they are full of good nutrients for you. Instead, eat just a smaller amount of these foods for the next few days. Once your body adjusts to them, you can gradually increase the serving size over the course of a few weeks.
  • Get moving: Even a quick ten-minute walk can relieve bloating so get some much needed fresh air after all that time spent indoors partying. Exercise helps gas pass through the digestive tract more quickly, so you feel better faster. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. One big cause of bloating is swallowing too much air when you eat. For example, you might gulp air if you snack on the run and eat too quickly, talk while eating, drink from a straw, or have a lot of fizzy drinks. You’ve probably done a lot of talking and eating over the last few days, but for today force yourself to take more time for meals, skip carbonated drinks, and eat smaller amounts of food at each sitting. One of the easiest ways to reduce the amount of air you swallow: Chew with your mouth closed.
  • Olive oil: If you feel constipated today, another cause of bloating, take two tablespoons of olive oil, preferably first thing Boxing Day morning on an empty stomach. Olive oil can help reduce constipation and bloating because it is very well tolerated by the stomach due to its high oleic acid content.
  • Cut out salt, alcohol and caffeine completely for a day: Salty food, such as processed and ready meals, causes you to retain water which often concentrates around your mid-section. Caffeine hinders the secretion of excess salt and toxins from the body. And alcohol unsettles your blood sugar which can trigger bloating and abdominal weight gain. Cut out all three today and eat fresh, natural foods instead.
  • Keep your digestion healthy: It’s tempting to skip food altogether on Boxing Day because you feel so stuffed, but this is last thing you should be doing. It will just make you feel worse. If you leave your stomach empty for long periods of time the secretion of digestive enzymes slows down which triggers, you guessed it, bloating.
  • Herbal teas: Peppermint tea may help your digestion if you have problems. You might also want to settle down with the odd cup of fennel tea. Just brew a tablespoon or so of fennel in a tea strainer and drink several cups a day. Fennel tastes like liquorice and has anti-gas as well as anti-spasmodic properties, making it especially helpful for bloating. If you haven’t stocked up on herbal tea over Christmas try a cup of warm water with lemon instead.

The True Power of Good Nutrition – Case Study November 2007

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

This month’s case study is ‘Jane’ who came to the Clinic with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

Jane’s story:

I had always had what I would call ‘normal’ bowels and a healthy digestive system until 2 years ago when I changed job and worked as PR consultant putting in incredibly long stressful hours in the City. I would have diarrhoea at least once a day which would be debilitating because of the pain and it started to rule my life because I always had to be within reach of a toilet which was incredibly difficult if I was travelling or out away from home or the office.

To start with it was difficult at work having to rush away from my desk during the day and it wasn’t the easiest thing to talk about with my colleagues. However, I confided in a couple of people, making it slightly easier for me.

After a year of suffering I decided this wasn’t normal and went to see my doctor who said it was just ‘irritable bowel’ and it was all in my mind and stress related. I went away feeling very upset and that I really hadn’t been listened to. He prescribed me a drug to stop the diarrhoea but I knew this was only masking the underlying problem. I took the course of medication for a month but had such bad cramps and bloating that I decided to stop taking it. I went back to my doctor and he referred me to a gastroenterologist (reluctantly!). I had an endoscopy and colonoscopy which both came back ‘normal’ yet I knew it was not normal to have such chronic symptoms.

I was talking to a colleague at work who mentioned that she had been to see a nutritionist Therapist for her digestive problems. She had been experiencing constipation and bloating and within a month she was a different person. She gave me the number of the Dr Marilyn Glenville Clinic and I phoned straight away to book my first appointment.

Before booking, I spoke to a nutritionist at the clinic to make sure it was something that could be helped with nutrition. She explained that my symptoms came under the ‘umbrella’ of irritable bowel syndrome and it was certainly influenced by diet but stress could exacerbate it. She briefly mentioned the common trigger foods that I may have to cut out and although it sounded hard I was desperate to feel well again so I booked the appointment.

My first consultation was one hour and the nutritionist took a very detailed medical history and went through my ‘typical’ diet – something that the doctor never did because he said that it was nothing to do with food. She explained IBS differs from other bowel disorders like Crohn’s and Colitis in that there is no underlying detectable pathology (i.e. nothing shows up with routine medical investigation) that is causing the digestive symptom or discomfort.

However as the name suggest there must be something that is causing an irritation to the bowel wall or else the symptoms would just not exist. Commonly acknowledged foods that irritate the intestinal wall include dairy products, coffee, alcohol, wheat and citrus fruits. Well, this was my diet! I drank a couple of cappuccinos to get me through my stressful working day and lived on sandwiches and biscuits washed down with orange juice!

The nutritionist talked about stress and how it impacts on digestion. When the body is under stress the energy available to the digestive tract is compromised so the release of digestive enzymes (these are naturally produced by our body to help digest carbohydrates, fats and proteins) is impaired and food is not digested properly and this results in diarrhoea and bloating.

It all made so much sense because stress definitely made my symptoms worse – almost like an ‘exam tummy’ churning around. I thought this was something I just had to live with because of the nature of my job. From my experience, stress and IBS became a vicious cycle because my stress would trigger my symptoms and my painful bloating an diarrhoea made me more stressed and so on.

Before putting me on an exclusion diet, the nutritionist explained that it would be useful to perform a food allergy test. This was a full blood test, which analysed 217 different foods and food additives that can cause ill health. The test results came back showing a strong reaction to wheat, dairy and citrus so she recommended that I avoid these foods for the next 4 weeks and keep a diet and symptom diary. This really helped keep me on track and focused. I had to cut out all bread, pasta, biscuits and cereals and of course my milky cappuccino and cheese. However, much to my amazement I found some great alternatives and all from the supermarket which made my life easier. Even eating out at restaurants I became aware of so many wheat and dairy free options. I suppose until you have to avoid certain foods, you don’t look to see what else is out there.

The nutritionist also prescribed me some basic vitamins and minerals to boost my immune system plus specific gut support in the form a probiotic (BioKult) to boost all my ‘friendly’ bacteria that live throughout the digestive system and digestive enzymes which I had to take specifically every time I ate to help digest the food and reduce my bloating.

Within 4 days my diarrhoea had stopped and consequently I no longer had a painful bloated stomach. For the first time in years I wasn’t constantly thinking about having to find a toilet and my commute to and from work was stress free. My clothes felt comfortable at the end of the day and I didn’t look 6 months pregnant as I often did before I went to the clinic. I couldn’t believe how such common foods could cause such debilitating symptoms. For the first time I was actually enjoying my food and taking a real interest in what I was putting into my body rather than just stuffing a sandwich down every lunch and relying on that coffee fix to get me through the day.

I had my follow up consultation 4 weeks later and the nutritionist recommended I continue with the same diet for another 8 weeks and then we could try reintroducing one food at a time. She explained that I may be able to eat these foods in moderation in the future, but for the moment it was important just to keep the digestive system calm and not stress it with foods that it was trying to ‘fight’. This made so much sense, plus I was motivated because I felt so well so naturally wanted to continue.

Marilyn’s comments:

This is a good example of how powerful the nutritional approach can be in changing someone’s life almost overnight, just by making some simple dietary modifications. Jane like many others in the UK eats a diet that contains a lot of wheat and dairy. It is all too easy to grab toast for breakfast, a cheese sandwich for lunch and have pasta and cheese for dinner. Bowel symptoms, whether they be diarrhoea, bloating, wind or constipation is our body trying to tell us that something is irritating our digestive tract. If you are about to exclude major food groups it always best to seek advice from a qualified nutritionist to make sure that you’re substituting with healthy alternatives so you don’t miss out on any valuable nutrients.

All too often we hear patients tell us how their doctor has made them feel like their symptoms are in their head, particularly when routine medical testing shows there is nothing ‘physically’ wrong like Coeliac disease or colitis. Listen to your body and if your bowel pattern changes and more serious bowel conditions have been ruled out, take a closer look at your diet as it could be something you eat everyday which you may never have considered!

If you are interested in having the test mentioned here please call 0845 8800915.