Archive for the ‘Natural Treatments’ Category

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.

The Beat Hay Fever Diet

Monday, June 1st, 2009

If you’re a hay fever sufferer you’ll know how the unpleasant symptoms of a runny nose, sore scratchy eyes and sneezing can make the summer months a misery. But interesting new research has found that the food you eat may be increasing your risk of these unpleasant symptoms. 

For many years research has shown that fruit and vegetables contain remarkable substances called antioxidants that can help fight infection and disease. But now it seems that the health and immune boosting benefits of five fruit and vegetables a day can also extend to allergies like hay fever too.


In 2007 a study asked parents of 690 children aged one to eighteen to fill in detailed questionnaires about their children’s eating habits. The children were tested for the 10 most common allergies and those who ate the most fruit and vegetables had up to 60 percent lower risk of developing hay fever. Top of the menu were tomatoes, oranges, apples and grapes. More research needs to be done but another preliminary study, carried out in 2003 on 334 people, suggested that EPA (an omega-3 fatty acid found in oily fish like mackerel and sardines, as well as nuts, seeds and legumes) can reduce risk of hay fever.


In addition, certain foods have been found to cross react with pollens, making symptoms worse. For example, if you’re allergic to birch pollen, your hay fever may be made worse by apples. The key is knowing exactly which pollens you’re allergic to so you can tailor your diet. You can have a blood test for inhalant allergens to check what you are allergic to. If you are interested in having this done, it can be organised by post so call The Natural Health Practice on 01892 507598 and ask to do the Inhalant Panel (this panel tests for tree pollens including walnut, birch, elm, maple, oak; grass pollens including orchard, timothy, rye, meadow frescue grass; weed pollens including ragwood, mugwort, plantain, lamb quarter, russian thistle; moulds including asperigillus fumigatus, candida albicans, cladisporium herbarum, penicillin notatum, alternaria tenius; animals including dog dander, cat epithelium, horse dander, cow dander; dust mites including D. pteronyssinus, D. farinae, D. microceras).


Here are some typical pollen and food combinations that may make your symptoms worse:


  • Birch – March to May
    • Triggers: Celery, curry spices, raw tomato, raw carrot, apples, pears, kiwi
  • Grasses – May to August
    • Triggers: Oats, rye, wheat, kiwi, raw tomato
  • Weed – May to August
    • Triggers: Raw carrots, curry spices
  • Mould – September to October
    • Triggers: Yeast


Once you establish exactly what kind of pollen you are reacting to, remove the foods known to cross-react with it from your diet for a week to ten days and take note of your symptoms. Then gradually reintroduce one food at time to see what the effect is. This is important because a number of foods associated with pollens are full of good nutrients so you want to cut out as few of them as possible. If you notice that your symptoms return after reintroducing a certain food eliminate that food for the season, then go back to eating it once the pollen season is over. Do bear in mind that this is not a cure-all and not everyone with hay fever is affected by foods. The good news, however, is that the great majority of pollens are only around for up to three months maximum so you don’t need to give up these foods forever. And in some cases, such as tomatoes and apples, cooking will destroy the substance that is triggering the reaction.


Send pollen packing:


In addition to the dietary advice above, if you’re allergic to a pollen and have a problem with hay fever, try the following suggestions:


Use a tumble dryer: Try not to hang your laundry out on a line to dry because it will pick up pollen. Using the dryer may not be energy efficient, but it can help cut down on hay fever symptoms during the months that you are most prone to them. If you must put it outside, do so between 10am and 3pm when the count is lowest. After your pollen season is over you can go back to using the washing line.


Shut it out: Keep pollen out of your bedroom by getting undressed in the bathroom and showering before bed. Keep windows closed at peak pollen times, from late afternoon to early morning, and check local pollen-count forecasts.


Change your exercise routine: Regular exercise boosts your immunity to hay fever, so be sure to work out at least 30 minutes a day. Sadly, outdoor activity increases your risk of symptoms. In general, pollen counts are highest in the early morning and decline through the day so consider planning your outdoor walk, run or bike for late morning or late afternoon. If pollen counts are really high consider exercising indoors that day.


Wear sunglasses: If you have to be outdoors when pollen counts are high, make sure you wear sunglasses. They will act as a barrier to prevent pollen getting into your eyes.


Hoover up: Vacuum the carpet every couple of days and dust with a damp cloth. Pollen can survive indoors for up to three months.


Say yes to supplements: Studies have shown that supplemental Vitamin C and the nutrient quercetin have both been found to significantly reduce symptoms.


Visit the seaside: Many people find symptoms disappear on the coast because sea air is less polluted and onshore breezes blow pollen inland.


Don’t let smoke get in your eyes: Not surprisingly, smoking aggravates symptoms; plus children exposed to more than 20 cigarettes a day are three times more likely to develop allergies like hay fever than those who are exposed to none.

Natural ways to beat cystitis

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Most women are all too familiar with the pain of cystitis, a common bladder infection. An estimated 35 per cent of women between the age of 25 and 40 have had at least one bladder infection, frequently referred to as urinary tract infection or UTI. Men can get bladder infections too, but they are more common in women.

Women tend to suffer most from this condition because in women the tube (urethra) that runs from the bladder to the outside of their body is considerably shorter (about 5cm/2ins) than it is in a man (about 18cm/7ins) and this makes it easier for bacteria to make its way into a woman’s bladder. In addition, the opening to the urethra is much closer to the anus than it is in men, so the bacteria have easy access to the urethra and from there to the bladder. 


Cystitis is an inflammation of the bladder lining caused by infection, irritation or bruising, or a combination of all three. The inflammation makes you want to pass water more urgently and frequently, even if there is very little to pass, and there is typically a burning sensation on urination. You may also experience lower abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, dark, foul-smelling urine (perhaps with traces of blood) and fever. Cystitis is not only painful it can progress to more serious infections of the kidney if not stopped in time.


The Causes


Bacterial cystitis is an infection responsible for about 50 per cent of cystitis cases. It is normally caused by E-coli bacteria (Escherichia coli – not the E-coli 0157 that causes food poisoning). E-coli is normally present in the bowels, but once this bacterium enters the urethra it sticks to the walls of the bladder and multiplies causing pain, inflammation and infection. If you regularly use tampons you are more susceptible to bacterial cystitis than women who use pads. This is because the chemicals from tampons can irritate the lining of the vagina and this irritation can encourage inflammation and infection. The string on the tampon used to pull it out can also provide bacteria easy access to the body.


There is another type of cystitis that is non-infectious and sometimes nicknamed ‘honeymoon cystitis.’ It is typically caused by bruising or irritation during sex, which causes inflammation and this inflammation can make infection more likely. Other triggers for non-bacterial cystitis include: wearing a sanitary pad for too long; tight underwear, tights or trousers and chemical irritants, including soaps and bubble baths. Some women are sensitive to chlorine from swimming pools.


The hormonal changes that take place at the menopause can also spur on the development of cystitis. When oestrogen levels drop the balance of bacteria in the vagina changes and the number of good bacteria declines, which may explain why the incidence of cystitis can increase by 2 per cent each decade after the menopause. In addition, vibrations from riding a horse, bike or motorcycle can also cause bruising, which can lead to symptoms of cystitis. Some women experience cystitis in pregnancy because the urethra is relaxed by high levels of progesterone.


Other causes of non-infectious cystitis include dehydration, which can make the urine more concentrated and more likely to cause irritation of the urethra and the bladder. Certain foods may also irritate the bladder and the urethra and these include spicy foods, alcohol, caffeine and fresh fruit juice.


Getting to the cause of the problem

If you’re plagued by bladder infections, here’s what you need to know to both prevent and treat the problem:


  • Urinate after sex: It has been found to be helpful to urinate after intercourse. This can wash out any bacteria that might have worked their way up into the bladder.
  • Drink fluids: If you feel symptoms coming on drink fluids to help dilute your urine.
  • Stick with cranberry juice: You’ve probably heard that cranberry juice is good for bladder infections. This advice has been around a long time, but recent studies have given credence to the claim by showing that cranberry juice can significantly reduce the bacteria associated with urinary tract infections. This is because cranberries contain substances called tannins, which can stop bacteria like E-coli sticking to the walls of the urethra. If you are prone to bouts of cystitis I recommend cranberries and cranberry juice as a preventative natural medicine, but don’t ever buy cranberry juice with added sugar or artificial sweeteners. Sugar has a destructive impact on your immune system and will make it difficult for your body to fight infection.
  • Use towels instead of tampons: Again, this will reduce the likelihood of infection.
  • Don’t hold on. Urinate regularly and, if you feel the need to go, find a toilet rather than putting it off.
  • Take showers instead of baths if you are prone to frequent bouts of cystitis and use natural soaps free from chemical irritants.
  • Avoid wearing tight underwear, tights or trousers.
  • Use sanitary towels instead of tampons, but make sure you change your pads every two hours.
  • Avoid all sugar, including hidden sugar found in many refined foods and sauces, such as tomato sauce. Start reading labels to find out how much sugar you are actually consuming. Refined carbohydrates, such as the white flour found in pastries, cakes and pies, is also broken down into sugar (glucose) quickly so should be avoided.
  • Acidic food and drink can trigger flare ups so avoid caffeine (in tea as well as coffee), alcohol, sugar, meat, spicy foods and undiluted fruit juices. Some, but not all, women with cystitis find that certain healthy foods, can aggravate the condition and these foods include strawberries, potatoes, tomatoes, spinach and rhubarb.
  • Abstain from sex just before your period: If you are vulnerable to bladder infections during certain phases in your menstrual cycle you may want to avoid sex just before your period when levels of oestrogen, the hormone that maintains vaginal health, are low.
  • Switch contraceptives: If you are using contraceptive jellies and foams and get recurrent infections talk to your doctor and consider using other methods of birth control. The jelly can make it easier for bacteria to get into the vagina.
  • Get treated: Sometimes even if you do all the right things you can still get an infection. As soon as you suspect you have an infection visit your doctor. Your doctor will be able to tell you if your condition is infectious or not. This is important because it can spread from the urinary tract to the bladder and kidneys, where it can cause kidney infection. If bacterial cystitis is diagnosed it will be treated with antibiotics. If you take antibiotics you need to be aware that although they will eliminate the infection, they will also destroy beneficial bacteria in the gut, increasing the likelihood of recurrent infection and thrush. So if you need to take antibiotics make sure you always take a probiotic with them to help recolonise your gut with beneficial bacteria (the one I use in the clinic is called BioKult – see the Resources Page)
  • Garlic: Often called ‘nature’s antibiotic’, research has shown that it can help eliminate bacteria associated with cystitis, such as E coli and staphylococcus. To get the full benefits of garlic you need to eat it raw. This sounds unpleasant, but just add raw garlic to salad dressings or crush it and use as a garnish. Alternatively, if you can’t bear the smell, you can take a garlic supplement – the most effective one I have found is called Aged Garlic, which is a concentrated form of organic garlic (see the Resources Page).
  • Pineapple: This fruit contains a digestive enzyme called bromelain, which has anti-inflammatory properties. Studies have shown it can have a beneficial effect on cystitis. Take 500mg, 3 times a day, between meals (see the Resources Page for how to obtain bromelain).
  • Live yogurt: Lactobacillus acidophilus (healthy bacteria) can be found in live yogurt but not at a therapeutic level, which is needed along with other beneficial bacteria when you have cystitis.  So you also need to take a probiotic. You need a probiotic containing at least 14 beneficial strains of bacteria with a 10 billion viable organisms per gram. (I have found BioKult to be an excellent probiotic.) 
  • Echinacea: This herb has been shown to increase the white blood cell count and activity in order to effectively engulf bacteria and viruses, so it may be a helpful herb for cystitis treatment and prevention.
  • Uva Ursi (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) is a herb with antiseptic properties that may be effective against E-coli bacteria. Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is also anti bacterial. The best approach is to have a mix of both golden seal and uva ursi, but don’t take this tincture for any longer than two weeks. Both these herbs should be used in the short term only in order to try and prevent the need to take antibiotics. If you are pregnant or hoping to be or have a history of heart disease, glaucoma or diabetes, you should consult your doctor or practitioner before using goldenseal.
  • D-mannose: This is a naturally occurring glyconutrient which sticks to the urinary tract. The E-coli adheres to the D-mannose, rather than the bladder wall, and the E-coli bug gets flushed out as your urinate. I have found D-mannose to be an excellent remedy for cystitis (in order to obtain it go see information on the Resources Page).




– Massage your stomach with two drops each of juniper and lavender oils in two teaspoons of warmed sweet lavender oil. Or add 1 to 2 drops each of tea tree, juniper, cypress and eucalyptus essential oils to your bath.


– To  help make your urine more alkaline and relieve the burning sensation try dissolving a teaspoonful of bicarbonate of soda (also called baking soda) in about half a litre of warm water and drink twice daily, or sip throughout the day.


– Barley water can act as an anti-inflammatory agent for the urinary system. Buy whole barley, put 1.5oz (40g) in 2 pints (1200 ml) water, boil and then simmer for 30 minutes. Add a slice of lemon, or the juice of one lemon, for the last 10 minutes of simmering. Sip the barley water during the day.


Note: If you get more than six bladder infections a year it is essential that you work with your doctor to identify the problem. Find a health professional who will outline a plan of diagnosis and treatment, including a review of your diary of activities.