getting the gout out

Gout is a type of arthritis – particularly affecting the big toe and foot but it can also impinge upon ankle, knee, hand and wrist. It is much more prevalent in men than women but post-menopausal women are at risk. It is not a condition of wear and tear but rather is caused by an excess of uric acid (urates) in the bloodstream – formed from the breakdown of cells and poorly metabolized foods, sometimes a side effect of certain medications and also treatment regimens such as chemotherapy.

A diminished ability for the kidneys to remove excess urates can be a genetic trait but the build up is generally dietary in nature and simple changes can have a big impact upon prognosis. Excess urates tend to crystalize and gather around the joints thus agitating inflammation and pain. Gout is acutely painful, and although it may resolve rapidly with a combination of anti-inflammatory and urate eliminating medications, recurrent attacks or the progression to chronic gout is very likely without lifestyle change.

Occasionally, stones will form in the kidneys and in some circumstances the urate crystals can migrate and adhere under the skin – visible as small white pimples, medically know as tophi. Gout is increasing being recognized as a comorbidity with other conditions – notably alcoholism, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, poor circulation and kidney disease.

How does winter affect it – In the past gout has been referred to as the King’s disease or Bishop’s disease – those two professions having a greater exposure to rich foods and plenty of wine and thus a higher level of purines that breakdown into uric acid. A diet rich in meats and alcohol is no longer the preserve of certain socio-economic allegiances but a staple of the everyday meals of many. The typical Christmas fayre and the switch to more consistent comfort and convenience eating that often occurs in winter is a diet rich in purines and also table sugar, corn syrup, and high fructose corn syrup which prompt uric acid formation and retention.

How to minimize it – In the acute phase (the flare up of pain) your GP may prescribe painkillers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Affected joints are best temporarily immobilized and elevated. Ice packs offer some relief. drink more water – the recommendation is often 8-10 glasses of water each day – which will help with reducing uric acid build up and assist the passing of stones (where implicated).

With recurrent/chronic gout, diet and lifestyle changes are required to lower uric levels and instances of flare ups. Cut back on units of alcohol, sugary and carbonated drinks, and processed meals or snacks. Avoid foods that are rich in purines – that’s red meat, offal, poultry, fish and seafood but also note asparagus, cauliflower, spinach, peas, beans, lentils, oatmeal, mushrooms, yeast containing foods and beverages.

If you are overweight, your medical practitioner might suggest you shed a few pounds but follow a sustainable pattern of healthy eating and gradual weight loss as crash dieting can actually trigger uric acid retention in the kidneys and only complicate your condition. And while it is firmly a metabolic condition, stress can exacerbate both flare ups and pain threshold – so perhaps mindfulness, music or moments to yourself.

Herbal help – Burdock Root in a tea or soup (or tincture form) is a go to for gout attacks, it helps detox the bloodstream, is a natural anti-inflammatory and by prompting urination it helps eliminate some excess uric acid. Devil’s Claw ( Harpagophytum procumbens) is a potent anti-inflammatory but it has the great capacity to dissolve urate crystal and purge uric acid from the bloodstream – Check it doesn’t clash with current meds . Nettle as tea and potherb has long repute to dissolve uric acid deposits and a supplement of evening primrose oil or other supplements/foods containing gamma linolenic acid (GLA) de-inflames and also reduces urate crystal-forming. All of these will help with kidney stones too – as will the dietary changes listed here.

Dietary changes – So while it advised to avoid the purine-rich foods listed above, there are foods that have a beneficial impact upon lowering uric acid in the blood stream and in part dissolving crystals. Apples and apple Cider Vinegar contain malic acid which disarms uric acid and helps the body expel it. Citrus fruits and in particular fresh lemon or lime juice contains citric acid which also helps expel uric acid and dissolves crystals. Sour cherries and cherry juice concentrate (local health store will stock) help lessen uric acid production and help break up crystals into small easier removed strata. Eating more fibre also binds to and removes uric acid. Fibre also helps balance blood sugar and insulin levels which is often implicated in gout.

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Treating Arthritis

Arthritis is almost a generic name for any condition symptomatic of joint pain and site sensitive inflammation, there are more than 100 varieties and it is often implicated in other conditions – such as lupus, lyme diesease, fibromyalgia etc. That said there are two main types; osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis and while some of the treatment protocols are similar, understanding which one you have will help discern the better treatment choices.

Osteoarthritis most often develops in people who are over 50 years of age – generally due to age related wear and tear. It can develop much earlier as a result of a sports injury or accidental trauma. Osteoarthritis affects cartilage – the protective connective tissue (shock absorber) between the bones thus causing the bones to friction and develops bony spurs referred to as osteophytes. The result is pain, inflammation, stiffness and deceased mobility.

While anti-inflammatories and pain relief is the order of the day, in the long term I would think of slowing cartilage decline by refining diet, staying hydrated, managing a program of healthy exercise to strengthen against strenuous or loadbearing movements.

When you are in pain everyone wants a miracle cure but there is no fast fix. The jury is still out on supplements. Calcium and magnesium may strengthen bone but it’s the cartilage that needs protection. Glucosamine and chondroitin are both structural components of cartilage – they both stimulate cartilage chondrocytes to produce new collagen and proteoglycans (that keeps mobility and pain buffing in play) but it is not currently clear if they can produce enough to reverse damage and may only slow further damage. More trials needed.

In terms of dietary changes – Cartilage is prominently comprised of water and collagen and so beyond staying hydrated you can pick foods that boost collagen production – again the jury is out as to how effective your body is in sending the collagen inducing nutrients to your wrinkles or to your knee. But the collagen enriching diet is also full of antioxidants and mild pain-relieving phytochemicals that it benefits overall wellbeing and can diminish pain perception too.

Foods most noted to kick-start our innate collagen production phase include almonds, avocados, beetroot, carrots, dark green vegetables, soy and garlic. Vitamin C is a key nutrient in collagen production

Rheumatoid arthritis can onset from late thirties, it is less about wear and tear and more about how the body’s immune system malfunctions and targets joints as if they were compromised. Antibodies attack he synovium (outer covering) of the joint triggering inflammation and thus pain signalling. Overtime this continual attack can cause changes in joint shape and affect healthy function.

The repeated inflammation is caused by an inflammatory cytokine called Interleukin 1-Beta (IL-1β) which also causes cartilage cells to produce proteins that digest join tissue – so a vicious cycle ensues. It can be noted that women are three times more likely to be develop rheumatoid arthritis than men and this may be related to decreased calcium and magnesium levels during child bearing and also menopause.

Calcium and magnesium rich foods or supplementation may help here – as those components do have a role in mitigating inflammation. Turmeric and ginger owe their yellow pigmentation to curcumin which when ingested exerts powerful anti-inflammatory effects in human physiology. Other culinary analgesics with good anti-inflammatory properties include cloves, cinnamon, cayenne, sage, thyme, oregano and ever helpful garlic.

Oily fish at meals and fish oil supplements are widely promoted to reduce joint swelling, pain sensation and morning stiffness associate with arthritis – and that’s pretty much down to their richness in omega-3 fatty acids which help not only with synovial coating but also decrease/inhibit C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 – which are two potently inflammatory proteins – thus enabling the body to better cope with inflammation responses.

There are many anti-inflammatory herbs that will benefit – Cats claw, devils claw, Maritime Pine Bark (Pycnogenol) etc. Always check that there is no conflict/counteracting between your current meds and any natural cures. I would also add that we must keep in mind that the rheumatoid arthritis condition is a faulty immune system attacking the joints and so we may seek to avoid any herbs or supplements that boost immune function during a flare up.

But this is the beauty of natural cures – while rosehips are packed with Vitamin C and so help our immune system to fight off seasonal colds and flus at this time of year, Rosehips are also great for arthritis pain relief – they work through their potential to impede chemotaxis (that is the transportation of immune cells including inflammation triggers into tissue) – they exert a slight immunosuppressive action on Interleukin 1-Beta (IL-1β) inhibiting its activation of those catabolic proteins that breakdown joint tissue.

A word of warning on all types – cold weather can decrease our pain tolerance threshold and changes in barometric pressure that book end storm fronts and even rain cycles can put pressure on the joints and trigger a flare up of inflammation – so at this time of the year wrapping up well is advice for more than the Christmas presents.

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How to spare your winter blushes, flushes and facial veins.

Its that time of the year when the cold weather puts the rosy into your cheeks but for some that’s a thorny issue.

Blushes – Blushing and flushing can be a reaction to weather extremes in winter and to temperatures changes between outside and inside or a symptom of puberty, pregnancy or menopause. Otherwise it generally occurs when blood rushes to the face, ears, neck of a person experiencing a strong emotion, such as embarrassment, anger or excitement. The blush dissipates when the rush of blood dissipates.

Some people experience socially debilitating blushing and cognitive therapy works, some people may have accompanied sweats with the flushes and if not menopause related may be a sign of hyperhidrosis which requires medical intervention. If menopause related, sage and parsley have phytoestrogens that limit reactions. Continual flush is not a blush at all but a skin condition; several skin conditions can redden the face.

Facial spider veins-  are generally caused by capillary frailty and the backup of blood left as capillaries cannot return to normalcy after a flush of blood – triggered by extreme cold/heat or exertion. They can also be caused by hormone changes. I recommend Gingko tea –for peripheral venous health and beneficial antioxidants – see Facial telangiectasia for extra supports.

Facial telangiectasias aka thread veins or flush blush – manifests as thin red or blue ‘thread veins’ – your capillaries become visible just below the skin’s surface – it is a condition where the capillaries can flush with blood but are slow to release that blood after exercise, a hot cup of tea, a cold brisk walk etc. Gardener’s alfresco cuppa-soups in mid-winter or excess sun exposure at other times of the year can hasten the appearance.  That said facial telangiectasia can also be triggered by aging, by pregnancy, oestrogen surges and some hereditary factors. It is also possible for thyroid disorders to cause spider veins in the legs and thread veins in the face so a note for a check-up to rule that out might be worth a space on the fridge.

Facial telangiectasia can manifest as what I call a flush blush, those rosy cheeks that may last a few hours or a few weeks post trigger exposure. Avoid cold or hot water face washing and do moisturize post garden to minimise flush and strengthen skin. .

Opting for more natural cures  (for all of the above) –  Edible seeds are a great way of nutritionally availing of linoleic acid and vitamin E, which can improve the disorder of peripheral vascular complaints including facial telangiectasia and couperose skin. But there is also a topical role for these seeds – why not pestle and mortar some seeds in a little olive oil and make a facial treatment too.

Seeds with linoleic acid and helpful oils include black currant and other ribes seed, also pumpkin, melon, watermelon, sunflower, grape, rose, evening primrose, cape gooseberry, nigella and borage. Many of theses are also available in supplement form for your local health store.

Eating more fruit, veg and salad crops is a great way to improve capillary strength and lessen red face issues. An old folk remedy for flush blush and other complexion issues, now a part of the Hollywood jet set beauty treatments is the internal and external utilization of apple cider vinegar – one with the ‘mother’ intact, that’s  basically the presence of cloudy particles or strings in the bottom of the bottle – that residue is full of pectin, malic acid, numerous beneficial enzymes and trace minerals – all great for digestive functioning, internal toxin elimination and external pH and sebum balance.

A drop of ACV  in your morning orange juice and/or a few splashes on the cheeks may address some of the contributing factors to facial telangiectasia, couperose, rosacea, pityriasis rosea and tinea versicolor. Always shake the bottle before using – to distribute the mother – whether you’re feeling gangster or not.

 The spill on Apple cider face cleanser  –  Topically applied apple cider vinegar (ACV) is antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal but it has the bonus of removing excess oil and balancing pH levels of skin. As a fruit product apple cider vinegar naturally contains alpha hydroxy acids which will contribute to the exfoliation of dead skin cells and pore residue (dirt and bacteria). It kind of makes the perfect cleanser – always patch test a new treatment first. Sensitive skin may need to dilute more.

Method: This is a treatment in increments as it can sting first few times, especially if there is a shaving nick or an acne breakout. So for the first few times make 1:4 ration of ACV to warm water. Tablespoon quantities will supply enough to dab over surface of face – and in small batches, the freshness of the active ingredients is not lost in the dilution. As you progress or giving a little time for your skin to acclimatize to the ACV regime – you can adjust ratio a 1 to 2 or even a 1 to 1.

Application: once the diluted ACV mix is made, simply dip a clean cotton wool pad or ball into it and apply to the face with gentle upward strokes. You can utilize as you would any commercial cleanser – moisturizing afterwards or washing the face with warm water post treatment. It is ok to let the dilution sit on the face for a few minutes or to dab-treat specific areas.

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breathe easy homemade clove and mint chest rub

This clove and mint based chest rub is good for winter related breathing issues, including nasal congestion, sinus issues, coughs, colds, flu.

Mint yields menthol which is analgesic, cooling and counterirritant as well as vasodilation- so opening up that respiratory system and allowing better blood flow to surface area of chest too 9lessing tightness or soreness). The aroma and phytochemical actions of the clove also boost the ‘breathe easier’ sensation of this treatment.

½ cup (approx. 110 fl oz) of sunflower oil
25g unadulterated bees’ wax
1 cup of peppermint foliage (or other culinary mint)
1 teaspoon of ground cloves or 20 drops of clove essential oil
Water to boil

Method: bring a saucepan of water to the boil. Add sunflower oil and cloves to a mason jar, lid and sit it into the saucepan of hot water. Wash and kitchen-towel dry the mint leaves then tear or roughly chop to release their active principles as you add them to the warm oil. Lid. Bring saucepan to a boil again – to heat the oil and help extract the phytochemicals, let simmer for twenty minutes. Allow to rest off heat for a further twenty. Strain the herb parts away then bring the oil filled jar to the boil again and chip, shave or grate the bees’ wax into the infused oil and stir until it dissolves fully and ameliorates. Finally decant mixed liquid into your storage container and allow to cool and solidify before lidding and storing for use.

This rub is intended for a massage application to the chest and back. It is suitable for inhalation and vaporising or steam bath inhalation – it is not for consumption. Keeps for a year.

find more remedies in my natural cures book – Now in paperback at all good bookstores and online retailers.

Discount deal here –

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turn a new leaf this autumn and get more mindful

Looking this time of the year at the autumn leaves slowly change colour and fall, always reminds me that change is natural and letting go is normal. I see the lessons of cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness within the natural rhythms of the garden and I harvest a bit of solace and mental wellness from that. The garden is full of mindful prompts and life lessons – I cherish it all the more for that.

People who practice mindfulness say it helps them relax and destress but that it also improves mental clarity and concentration; gifts awareness, comprehension and understanding, self-compassion and insight; affords them emotional flexibility, self-control, empathy to others, acceptance of life’s events and vicissitudes as well as an increase in resilience and tolerance. They also say that it helps diminish procrastination, rumination and negative though patterns, self-doubt, worry, anxiety, depression and other life stagnating preoccupations.

It almost sounds too good to be true – a magic bullet. Certainly mindfulness anecdotally and through these honed traits seems to engender a greater capacity to not just cope but deal with adverse events in life and opens oneself to experience a more satisfied life. But what does the scientific evidence say.

Evidence based benefits of mindfulness.

Stress reduction
Mental clarity and concentration
Increases productively
Emotional flexibility
Self awareness
Empathy and tolerance
Lessens general anxiety and anxiety disorders
Lessens negative thoughts and rumination.
Combats depression, substance abuse and eating disorders
Lessens obsessive-compulsive disorder
Benefits couples’ conflicts and interpersonal relationships

Apart from the knock on benefits of stress relieve to physical health, mindfulness is also associated with better sleep and increased vitality, it has therapeutic benefits to boost immune system, lower blood pressure, treat heart disease, reduce chronic pain and alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties.

There are also some interesting studies on the impact of mindfulness practices on creativity, happiness, wellness perception, physical endurance and motivation etc.

Discover more

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Time to plant a breath of fresh air

Autumn is a brilliant time to plant trees, there is enough warmth and soil moisture to get them established before winter. But more than improving the aesthetic of the garden or local waste ground/school frontage/park/community space, they improve our wellbeing.

We know that trees absorb carbon dioxide and provide oxygen, that trees are the lungs of the world. So planting a tree is good for your local air quality but trees can also help our lungs to better cope with air pollution – Not just absorbing Co2 but by absorbing emissions from car fumes and local industries. Trees also capture dust and particulates from the atmosphere – preventing them entering our lungs.

A research paper published in Environmental pollution back in 2014 found that a 10-by-10 kilometre space with 25 percent tree cover in London had the capacity to remove more than 90 tons of particulate matter annually. The impact of which to local inhabitants was considered to be the avoidance of two deaths and at least two less hospital admissions per annum.

Streets line with tress are 50-60% lower in particular matter than those without. So while any tree in your front garden will soak up the pollution on your road. My favourite is our native silver birch (Betula pendula), it’s a shallow rooter so wont expose the drains in a few years’ time, it is airy so it won’t shade out your home or garden and it can be purchased in exquisite multi-stemmed varieties that can be top pruned to maintain a great shape.

Best of all birch foliage is covered in ridges and upon closer inspection tiny hairs too – all of which efficiently trap the maximum of pollution particles. Rainfall disperses any pollutants not absorbed to the ground where it is washed into the soil and tackled by the roots, leaving the leaves cleaned and reset to trap the next batch.

It is interesting to remember that Birch trees symbolise rebirth and rejuvenation and that In Irish folklore birch is considered protective against evil spirits and the evil eye – who knew just how protective?

To discover more about the healing of nature and the nature of healing, join me at the Vitality – 8th & 9th September 2018, RDS Dublin. Opening Hours: 10:00 – 17:00. To book a ticket or see more of what is on offer visit

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heat stress lip care

Long hot summers effect our lips in many ways: the heat dehydrates the lip surface, we may be prone to lick them more often which is not helpful and actually causes chapping, lips are devoid of the skin hormone melanin – the body’s natural defence to sun and UV damage and so prone to UV damage and sunburn easy and then if we are in the middle of a heat stress such as the current heat wave then be it dehydration or heat exhaustion, our immune system can be compromised and underlying issues such as cold cores can arise.

So the 3 big complications of this weather are inflamed lips , chapped lips and cold sores

1. Inflamed lips aka Cheilitis – lips can easily inflame via through allergy, medication or injury – including over licking, sunburn or severe dehydration. The inflammation of lips can develop into sever chapping, crusting and even bleeding sores if not treated appropriately. the answer is a lip balm

Boost a beeswax lip balm with some Lip friendly essential oils such as Lavender, German chamomile, tea tree, lemon, lemon thyme, sandalwood, peppermint, rose and rose geranium. simply warm up to soft add a few drops and allow to reset.

2. chapped lips – chapped is the next stage, when the swell stretches the lip and damages the surface skin layer resulting in tears or chafing. Resist repeatedly licking your lips – saliva just evaporates off quickly, and can leave your lips even drier than before -instead apply a balm and drink plenty of fluids to keep self and mouth and all skin hydrated – Avoid citrus juice and fruits –as they aggravate chapped lips….

Many commercial balms and lipstick contain alcohol and/or petroleum products which can aggravate the condition of chapped lips rather than remedy it – Try the hydrating and skin replenishing sap of Aloe Vera or make a pulp of cucumber or avocado flesh for the same effects.

Severe or persistent chapped lips can be a case of Perlèche aka Lip sucker syndrome – A form of exfoliative cheilitis (crusting and ulceration) directly related to the habitual sucking, chewing, picking and licking of lip – sometimes considered as a nervous tic or symptom of stress yet is common amongst teenage girls and young women. Passion flower tea is as effective as a more natural benzodiazepine antianxiety medications – but without the side effects.

honey lip scrub – A smear of Honey is great as apart from its moisturizing properties it functions as an antiseptic. A mix of both oil and honey with a little added sugar grains can exfoliate the dry skin and soothe the exposed new forming skin.

3. Cold sore. A cold sore is a viral infection manifesting as a small blister or cluster of blisters occurring on the lips and nearby skin. It is caused by – herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). Tingling, itching or burning sensations generally herald the blistering to come. As a virus it is highly contagious and as a virus it has its own lifecycle.

Some people get a cold sore once and it never returns but with most, once contracted the virus remains with you for many years if not lifelong. Thankfully it is predominantly dormant with possibly one or two flare ups each year but it is also easily triggered into activity by sunburn or other damage to lip surface and also by stress or fatigue. So looking after yourself is the best way to keep it repressed.

Outbreaks generally clear up without any intervention or treatment within 7-10 days, there are plenty of OTC lip balms and topical creams to suppress the viral activity and soothe the soreness and there are lots of home cures too to make it more manageable.

Topical tincture or tisane of lavender, chamomile, selfheal, St John’s wort or hyssop are antiviral. Internal tinctures of thyme, echinacea or astragalus are immune boosting and antiviral. A tea of Liquorice root contains glycyrrhizic acid that can inhibit and fight viral spread. A dusting of cinnamon is a great antiseptic and dries up ruptured blisters and bleeds.

One of the best things you can do is to avoid acidic or salty foods as they not only sting but can suppress your immune system just as it attempts to fight the virus flare up. The mistake is to lessen eating and drinking for fear of bursting a blister or cracking a scab but do drink plenty of fluids to keep the lip hydrated and functioning normally in unaffected areas

Four essences medicated lip balm
The veg butter and oil are moisturizing and absorbing of the essential oils and their antiviral and healing principles while the thickening agent – bees wax – is naturally antimicrobial and wound healing.
1 tablespoon shea butter or cocoa butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon grated beeswax
2 shakes each of the essential oil of lavender, German chamomile, tea tree and thyme
Method: In a bain-marie (or jam jar resting in hot water), melt the shea butter/cocoa butter and beeswax into the olive oil, once melted remove from heat stir with a chop stick or swirl around, add essential oil at last minute, decant to a suitable container – small glass jar or tin – cover to retain volatile oils and allow to cool and set naturally. Store in a cool place and use as often as you need to soothe and treat.

Cold sore blitz paste
All ingredients are antiviral, anti-inflammatory and pain relieving.
Method: Simply blitz together 2 tablespoons of coconut oil, 1 tablespoon of lavender foliage, 1 tablespoon of chopped chamomile tops (flowers or foliage) and 1 teaspoon of honey. Use a dab treatment throughout the day, each day until virus subsides. Stores in fridge for 1 week.

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