try a tasty stir-fry to remedy winter aches and pains

Traditional stir-fry spices are warming and so improve blood circulation and our own pain regulating mechanisms but many of them have a powerful dose of anti-inflammatory or analgesic action. Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin which is one of the most researched and proven anti-inflammation compounds we can ingest.

Ginger also contains a lot of anti-inflammatory chemicals while chilies contain capsaicin which switches off neuroreceptor p – the pain perception receivers in our bodies. Ginger, chilli, garlic and curry powder mixes all cause a release of endorphins that further lessens our experience of discomfort. So a good stir fry or any of these ingredients will diminish muscular pain and general aches.

Other ingredients that make the dish even more pain relieving include any green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, chard, bok choy) are full of anti-inflammatory carotenoids and sulforaphanes. Try some precooked sweet potatoes and fresh sliced red peppers, both are rich in beta-cryptoxanthin – which is a potent inflammatory, and both are full of system cleansing antioxidants – which helps to diminish toxin accumulations and pain signalling. Tofu is a great vegetarian option to supply pain dampening omega-3 fatty acids but you could use fatty fish; both also help to cool down inflammation markers that wake up pain receptors.

A stir fry is quick and easy, no fuss so no stress – but it has another positive psychology bonus – it is hot and hot foods help to release even more pain modifying endorphins. The lift that comes after a good meal is not just the replenishment of nourishment, it is your brain rewarding you for refuelling and when you refuel with foods full of healthy phytochemicals the reward is amplified – even more so when the ‘heat’ in the food be that physical warmth of freely cooked or the ‘spice’ kicks in to warm the blood and boost circulation and get those endorphins and anti-inflammatories distributed quicker and more effectively.

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a minute on the lips – how fattening is your lipstick?

There is a saying – a cautionary warning to food cravers and dieters; “a minute on the lips – a lifetime on the hips”. But may this idiom extend beyond the chocolate biscuits or that tempting desert to the lipstick you are wearing or the chocolate-scented shower gel you use.

Certain ingredients in beauty products contain ‘hidden fats’ that are absorbed through the skin but for me the dangerous ones are those known to alter your hormonal and endocrine systems and change how you accumulate and store fats.

Here’s a sneaky peek at two. The two you are probably exposed to every day.

Parabens are chemical shelf-life extenders that feature in an array of cosmetic and toiletry products; from moisturizers, lipstick, foundation and concealer to makeup removers, deodorants, shaving foam, toothpaste and shampoo. There are many types but notably Isobutylparaben, Butylparaben, Methylparaben, Propylparaben and Parahydroxybenzoate are used / identified in your cosmetic ingredient list.

The problem with parabens is their xenoestrogenic effect – meaning that they are shaped quite like oestrogen and once absorbed into the body they end up filling up receptors located in your cells normally reserved for real oestrogen – the consequence being that other neurotransmitters and glands mistakenly start relaying messages and making adjustments based on the presence of what they assume is real oestrogen.

That ‘excess oestrogen’ can be implicated in estrogen driven cancers, early puberty, complications in menopause and issues with both male and female fertility but also in insulin resistance and weight gain. Just like real Oestrogen, these parabens acting as false hormones can promote additional fat accumulation around the hips and thighs.

Phthalates are chemical agents utilized as plasticizers, solvents and fixatives to maintain a products consistency. They feature predominantly in perfumes, nail polish and hair spray but also in body washes, soaps, shampoo and even moisturizers. The side of the box may note dimethylphthalate (DMP), or diethylphthalate (DEP) but there are more.

Phthalates are considered “obesogens” – yes cause obesity. They do this by tricking the body into fat storage via a disruption of the normal hormonal activities of the body and subsequent impact upon the endocrine system. Phthalates do not act like oestrogen, rather they act to block androgens (male hormones) which can allow oestrogen dominance to occur and the fat accumulation associated with that – but decreased androgens can also be implicated in insulin resistance and so prompt a higher risk for weight gain and diabetes.

To discover more about harmful chemicals in your cosmetic and toiletries and explore solutions to avoid those products – check out my book  ‘Beauty treatments from the garden’
all online book retailers and good bookstores.

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a natural approach to nail problems

Gardeners, gloves on or not, can be prone to nail problems – here are some cures and tips from my book beauty treatments from the garden

Soft nails – Fragile nails can indicate rheumatism, poor diet or poor general health. Iron deficiency produces brittle nails as does a lack of biotin (vitamin H) or zinc.

Brittle nail syndromes  (Onychoschizia and onychorrhexis) come in two directions – splitting of the nail horizontally is medically known as onychoschizia while vertical splits are referred to as onychorrhexis. Women and older people are most affected by the syndrome – age degrades keratin in the nail structure as does acetone in polish remover.

natural treatment spa for soft nail – mortar and pestle up some horsetail and paint on the liquid extract – rich in nail strengthening silica. Silica is also present in dandelions, asparagus, alfalfa, cabbage and cucumbers. from the kitchen, Biotin from avocados, mushrooms, Swiss chard and sunflowers seeds will strengthen nails from within but topically the natural oils from crushed sunflower seeds can strengthen and an avocado hand mask will treat not just the nails but the whole hand. Silica is available for internal top up or external application from olives, oats, radishes, bell peppers, rice, millet and soybeans

Cracked and splitting nails can beset gardeners as much as it can kitchen porters and it’s the same causative factor – repeated exposure to water and substances (detergents or hot compost) that degrades the keratin – the agent of the structural integrity of your nails. On average healthy nails average hold around 15- 18 percent water content. Less than that leads to brittle nails that split and crack easily but anything approaching 30 percent water content also triggers cracking – the keratin glue dissolves some bonds at that degree of saturation and nails quickly soften and damage.

A natural response – The answer is to moisturise your nails without saturating them- that’s as simple as an olive oil nail bath but if you blitz comfrey and horsetail in the oil base then the extra silicon and phytochemicals can strengthen as well as improve waterproofing. Growing your own garlic and including it in your diet will add several phytoconstituents that help you produce more keratin.

Hangnails are those torn pieces of skin right at the edge of a nail. Easily occasioned if you are a nail biter – don’t worry the dahlias will come up. Just as easily occasioned by cold weather or via water immersion or by exposure to detergents and other harsh chemicals. Pamper your nails and use an antibacterial wash to prevent hangnails becoming paronychia.

Ridges- occasionally raised lines develop in the nail, often harmless and natural disruption to normal cell division/ nail growth patterns – occasional indicative of trauma or a medical condition, they can appear horizontally or vertically. Often they will simply grow out. Any nail nourishment – be that an external horsetail finger bathe or eating zinc rich foods etc.- will benefit the condition of your nails.

Beau lines – not quite a love letter, rather a condition of the nail matrix where/when cells temporarily stop dividing – Nail growth is a result of normal cell division, the renewal/production of new cells from the matrix simply pushes the older cells outwards toward the fingertips. Named after the French physician Joseph Honore Simon Beau, he was the first to describe the condition which presents as multiple horizontal grooves in the fingernails. The groves run parallel to the base of the nail bed and are different to vertical ridges. Beau lines predominantly occur after/during illness or trauma – trauma to the person or direct trauma to the nail (hammer blow etc). The shock of an early frost won’t do it.

Vertical ridges – Running from the base of the nail to the tip. They are not generally occasioned by illness as with beau lines but rather manifest (or increase in prominence) with age.

Yellow nails – Tea, nicotine, turmeric and peaty soils can all stain a nail. But make sure it’s not a medical condition signifier. To whiten stained nails simply paint on a mix of 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to 1 table spoon of olive oil.

White spots(leukonychia) commonly occasioned by a minor trauma – it is not a vitamin deficiency. The only effective treatment is to wait for the nail to grow it out – slowly pushing it to the tip as the nail grows. Leukonychia can also manifest as white streaks.

Sometimes an eczema outbreak can dot nails and some fungal infections begin as white spotting but neither are leukonychia – fungal will need treatment see fungal treatments here or in the book. Persistent spotting may indicate a liver or kidney function issue to be highlighted with a medical professional.

White Flecks – flecking can indicate a zinc deficiency or just be the temporary ‘scar’ from a trauma to the nail fold (located just under the cuticle) – as it grows out it become visible. Cereal with milk a few times a week supply’s both zinc and other nutrition that helps recovery or remove deficit. Nuts and seed also aid.

Pitting – when small depressions develop upon or within the nail surface it can be an indication of an underlying medical condition. Pitting can lead to the nail loosening and even nail bed detachment. Psoriasis can occasion pitting.

Curving nails (Koilonychia) is an abnormal growth pattern of the fingernail where the nail becomes thin, develops raised ridges commences to curve inward – it is an indication of an iron deficiency and often accompanies anaemia. Time to eat more brassicas and possibly take a supplement.

Discover more inside the book – available from all good booksellers

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Quick blitz raw garlic pesto

Garlic in our diet is often touted as a cure all, especially to fortify us against winter ills – but cooking it diminishes its healing chemistry, so here is a handy and very tasty way to get your raw on.

Quick blitz Raw Garlic Pesto – To a blender or food processor add 2 cloves of crushed garlic, 1 cup of basil, 1/3 cups grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, 1 tablespoon of pine nuts, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch of black pepper. Quick whizz. Depending on the moisture levels in the basil – If too thick add a drop of water or a little extra oil to loosen to a preferred consistency. Will keep in fridge for a few days but best consumed within 3 days.

Some of the reticence to use fresh garlic is that it can linger on the breath – but chlorophyll binds to sulphur compounds and helps neutralize much of the odour. So making a raw garlic pesto is not only availing of the raw but it’s using basil with plenty of chlorophyll to make it much easier to consume and stay social.

Health benefits: Garlic’s botanical name is Allium sativum – ‘allium’ reminds us that it is in the onion family and has that particular flavour and aroma profile – which is due to its potent content of sulphur compounds. Those compounds can correct the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut biome, balance the good and bad cholesterol in your bloodstream, cleanse and strengthen red blood cells and improve the efficiency of white blood cells – so a big health kick. It also contains selenium and zinc, two mineral drivers of our immune system and utilized in how our body repairs and replenishes itself.

sativum denotes ‘cultivated’ and it has been welcomed and sustained as culinary and medicinal crop for thousands of years. Garlic features in both Mesopotamian writings and Egyptian art from 3000 B.C. and in every herbal written since – most of that context was as healing agent; Topically used to remedy fungal infections and even employed in oils as a hair cosmetic but most popular of all – eaten to bring vigour and vitality.

If I may add a modern caveat – garlic increases immune function and so moderation/ caution is required if you have an autoimmune condition. That doesn’t mean avoid altogether, it just means not every day.

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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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